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Football: Villa determined to do old friends no favours; BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE.

Byline: By Lisa Smith

Villa Park could take on the guise of a Friends Reunited conference come 3pm on Saturday, as Gary Megson brings a Bolton Wanderers side boasting no fewer than three former Aston Villa players.

And while Martin O'Neill's side will welcome back Gary Cahill, Gavin McCann and Jlloyd Samuel, midfielder Stiliyan Petrov insists Villa will not be gifting Bolton a share of the spoils.

Midfielder McCann and defender Samuel joined the Lancashire club at the end of the 2007 season, while Cahill left for the Reebok Stadium in January after turning down the chance to join Birmingham City. All three make their first return to Villa Park as Bolton bid for a win in their battle against relegation.

O'Neill has himself reiterated that the game is crucial for his side. Villa have suffered three consecutive defeats for the first time this season and have also drawn twice since they seemed set to push on for a potential Champions League place. They have now slumped to eighth in the league and are in danger of missing out on European football altogether this year.

Petrov, who made a welcome return to first-team action last week in Villa's 4-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester United at Old Trafford, said: "Gary Cahill has been a rock at the heart of their defence and I notice he even captained the team in the Uefa Cup. That was a great honour for him and it shows how much they think of him.

"He never let Villa down when he was here and he only moved on because he wanted regular first-team football. It should make for a fascinating battle with him up against John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor. Injury has prevented Jlloyd making the same impact at Bolton, but he's a quality full-back and I know he's one to watch going forwards."

Petrov, who lists Gavin McCann amongst his personal friends, added: "Gav was hugely popular here with the players and fans. When we played at the Reebok earlier this season, several of us went out for a meal afterwards to celebrate the birth of his daughter. It was great to catch up with him then and I'm sure there will be some banter on Saturday."

The Bulgarian continued: "One thing's for sure - it will be another tough game and we've found to our cost how difficult it can be to play struggling opposition."

If Villa think the win is hugely important for their season, however, Bolton have the same idea and Icelandic defender Gretar Steinsson believes the team will pull out the performances required to stay up, starting with a win at Villa Park.

He said: "That game is going to be vital for us. We have to get three points at Villa. The performance against Arsenal when they lost 3-2, despite holding a two-goal lead has given us great confidence."

Villa's second string are still on track to win the Barclays Premier Reserve League (South) title this season after fellow title-chasers Werst Ham United reserves were defeated 3-0 by Chelsea.

Villa reserves kept alive their hopes by beating Birmingham City 1-0 on Monday night and now need just six points from their last four matches to guarantee the title and an end-of season clash with the Northern Division champions.

Monday's win over Blues, courtesy of a first-half goal from 20-year-old Sam Williams, saw Kevin McDonald's men move two points clear at the top of the table with two games in hand over the Hammers, who currently occupy second spot.

The reserves' next fixture will be at home to third-placed Portsmouth a week tonight (7pm).
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 2, 2008
Words:604
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