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Europa League round of 16 draw

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By ESPN Staff

Houllier hails 'fantastic leader' Petrov

Gerard Houllier has hailed Aston Villa skipper Stiliyan Petrov as "a fantastic leader" after setting his side a seven-point target to ensure Barclays Premier League survival.

Petrov has had to play second fiddle to the Nigel Reo-Coker and Jean Makoun partnership in recent months.

But the Bulgarian international earned a recall for last week's win over Newcastle and Houllier has confirmed he will start tomorrow's clash at West Ham.

Houllier said: "I left him (Petrov) out when I felt it was maybe good for the team.

"But he showed a lot of commitment and his fitness has improved and he is a great captain also.

"In difficult times you need the people you can rely on and he is one of them.

"He is in my plans. I'm not talking about the past, I'm talking about the future."

Houllier added: "Stiliyan, and all the squad members have demonstrated a lot in terms of effort, quality of effort, application and mentality.

"They have demonstrated they want this club to go up. They feel committed to what we have to do together and Stiliyan has been a fantastic captain and a fantastic leader for the rest."

Victory tomorrow will take Villa to the 40 point mark - eight clear of the Hammers.

But even then Houllier will still take nothing for granted.

He said: "Going into the Everton game, we viewed it as a mini league of eight games remaining and I'm pleased we've got four points from the first of those two matches.

"But in fairness we may need another two wins and a draw to be safe.

"I think we need a minimum of seven points."

Houllier has sympathy for his Hammers counterpart Avram Grant who looked as if his days were numbered when he tossed his scarf into the crowd after a home defeat by Arsenal in January.

He said: "I've a lot of sympathy for him. We get on well, we are in the same business.

"But once we come to games, we are looking after the interest of our clubs.

"Before and after the game, we will maybe shake hands but during the game we are opponents.

"But it is true he was also under a lot of pressure."

Houllier added: "West Ham are fighting for their lives but we are going to be fighting for our lives as well, don't worry.

"We are ready. We know it is a relegation fight. We know the six games will be strong and committed but we've got everything it takes for that."

Houllier also dismissed the claim from Newcastle boss Alan Pardew that Villa were fortunate to win last weekend's meeting between the two clubs.

He said: "I don't think I would ever say when we lose that it was a lucky victory for the opponent.

"This is a lack of respect to the opponent. But I don't want to comment anymore on that."

Houllier has no injury problems regarding his senior players with striker Gabriel Agbonlahor shaking off the hamstring strain which forced him to be substituted against the Magpies.

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