Aston Villa will hope for a positive result at home to Sunderland on Saturday as they look to ease mounting relegation concerns.
Villa remain unlikely to drop out of the English Premier League, but a run of five matches without a win has seen them slip to within five points of the bottom three.
With five games remaining, and a total of 15 points still to play for, Villa manager Alex McLeish will be determined to improve his team’s situation, or risk suffering a second successive relegation from the top flight after he also took Birmingham down last season.
On Sunday Villa went down 4-0 away to league leaders Manchester United, who took the lead through a penalty won in controversial circumstances by former Villain Ashley Young.
The Villa players this week received a training-ground visit from former captain Stiliyan Petrov, who retired last month as he prepares to undergo treatment for acute leukaemia.
According to midfielder Barry Bannan, the players will be fighting to guarantee top-flight football upon Petrov’s return to fitness.
“He’s told us to keep going and get ready for the big games coming up,” Bannan said.
“He’s told us we can turn it around and finish strongly. He’s told us to keep battling.
“We owe it to Stan to make sure when he does come back into it, he’s skipper of a Premier League club. That’s a big incentive for us, to ensure survival for Stan.”
Sunderland meanwhile have little to play for in the remaining matches of the season.
They are ninth on the table, safe from the threat of relegation, and out of contention for European qualification.
The team enjoyed an impressive run of form following the arrival of Martin O’Neill as manager in December, but they appear to be running low on energy as the campaign draws to a close.
Sunderland are without a win from their last five outings in all competitions, drawing 0-0 at home to bottom club Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet attributed the team’s form slump to balancing league and cup commitments, and is hoping for a return to winning ways when they visit Villa Park this weekend.
“Everyone was happy we didn’t concede against Wolves – but then again we wanted to take all three points, especially playing them at home,” he said.
We’ve had quite a busy period with all of the FA Cup games
“So everyone will have a decent rest this week and hopefully we’ll go out and get three points against Aston Villa.”
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