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Oct 23, 2009

ESPN Soccernet Preview: Wolves v Aston Villa

• Live on ESPN2 US at 07.45 ET

The Midlands derby offers Wolves the chance to get their season back on track on Saturday lunchtime, after a month without a win, but they face a Villa side who are full of confidence having beaten Chelsea 2-1 last weekend. Villa are unbeaten in their last eight league and cup visits to Molineux, having won five and lost three, and Wolves will have to shatter a losing run stretching back more than 30 years (May 1978) if they are to cause an upset.

Mick McCarthy's men have shown themselves to be capable of avoiding relegation this season by picking up wins over Fulham and Wigan, but their form has been far too inconsistent, even if they nearly picked a vital win over Everton. They won't be buoyed by the fact that the last time these two teams met, in 2004, Villa won 4-0.

Having gone out of the Europa League at an early stage, Villa's priorities lie in the Premier League. They are viewed as one of the teams capable of breaking into the top four (and only failed to last season because of a dreadful run of late form), and will be heavy favourites at the Molineux Stadium as they have undergone a real transformation under the leadership of Martin O'Neill.

Wolves player in focus: Kevin Doyle. The former Reading hitman has failed to hit the heights of his previous spell in the Premier League, but is Wolves' top scorer this season with three. His tireless work-rate puts the opposition under pressure and he has managed to keep last year's hero Sylvan Ebanks-Blake out of the starting XI with his quality performances.

Villa player in focus: Stiliyan Petrov. With Gareth Barry no longer playing his football at Villa Park, Petrov has come to the fore with a series of commanding performances in central midfield. His distribution and eye for a pass provides a platform for the pacy attackers that the club boast and his work-rate is also important in keeping a lid on the opposition attacks.

Key battle: Wayne Hennessey v Gabriel Agbonlahor. The Welsh goalkeeper had a great game against Everton and made some stunning saves before he was eventually beaten late on. He will have to be at his best again to keep out Agbonlahor, who netted five goals in five games before the start of the month. Full of pace and tireless running, Agbonlahor poses the main threat to the Wolves defence and Hennessey will have to be quick off his line to stop any danger if McCarthy chooses to play a high line.

Tactics: McCarthy tries to take the game to his opponents in 4-4-2, so don't be surprised to see Wolves pushing on. Playing two strikers, they rely on the hard work of Andy Keogh and Kevin Doyle to defend from the front and have a host of players capable of bursting forward from midfield. Villa love to counter attack and with Ashley Young, James Milner and Gabriel Agbonlahor's pace down the flanks, pose a real threat in their own 4-4-2 formation. A settled back four and the strength and power of John Carew up front give them a good spine, but it is their wing play that makes them most dangerous.

Quotes: Mick McCarthy on Kevin Doyle: ''Doyle has been a 'signature' signing of the summer, our big signing. And he has proved to be worth every single penny of the money we paid.''

Martin O'Neill on the derby atmosphere: "I would be concerned about the game because not only is it a Premier League fixture, it's a local derby. It is a big game. They will be up for the game but winning against Chelsea makes it easier for us."

In the news: Martin O'Neill and Nigel Reo-Coker have reportedly ended their feud publicly after a training ground bust-up last month. The midfielder has not started a game for Villa since though, and will most likely be on the bench again. O'Neill, meanwhile, has backed Wolves to avoid the drop this season.

Wolves Team News: Wolves are missing the suspended Stefan Maierhofer and have David Jones, Andrew Surman and Stephen Ward (all knee injuries) on the sidelines. Chris Iwelumo and Richard Stearman have been playing for the reserves, but may not make it in time.

Villa Team News: Villa are currently without centre-back Curtis Davies due to a shoulder problem, Wilfred Bouma and summer signing Stewart Downing, who is continuing his recovery from a foot injury, are both missing.

Probable Wolves line-up (4-4-2): Hennessey, Elokobi, Mancienne, Berra, Zubar, Henry, Halford, Jarvis, Kightly, Doyle, Keogh.

Probable Villa line-up (4-4-2): Friedel, Warnock, Collins, Dunne, Cuellar, Petrov, Sidwell, Milner, Young, Agbonlahor, Carew.

Soccernet prediction: Derby games are always tight, but Villa should have enough at their disposal to pick up the win away from home. Wolves may struggle to cope with the Villa threat down the flanks as their full backs are not the quickest.

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