FOOTBALL: MATCH OF THE WEEKEND (TOMORROW 11.30)
Saturday 20 March 1999
Last season: 0-2
ADDING A Stone to his squad was one thing for John Gregory but seeing Aston Villa dropping like a stone down the Premiership table is quite another. The hope for the manager is that one, Steve Stone, the recent pounds 5.5m signing from Nottingham Forest, will help arrest the other, beginning with the visit of Chelsea tomorrow.
Stone should make his home debut at Villa Park safe in the knowledge that he will be able to revert to his preferred right midfield slot, after having to play wing-back - and second-fiddle to David Ginola - in the 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane last week.
A fit-again Steve Watson will reclaim the wing-back role, while Dion Dublin (left) returns from suspension to lead an attack that has helped take just one point from the last 21. It could be that Dublin and Paul Merson will have a point to prove to England's caretaker manager Kevin Keegan after failing to gain a Pole position in the squad for next Saturday's Euro 2000 qualifier.
Dublin's return could see Stan Collymore lose his starting place, while Ian Taylor is struggling with an injury and Simon Grayson is definitely ruled out. Despite these doubts Gregory is his usual upbeat self: "There's no reason why our boys can't get their act together again for the final two months of this season, and the good thing is that a few bodies are coming back into the frame."
After securing a European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final berth against the Spanish side Real Mallorca with a comfortable 6-2 aggregate win over Valerenga in midweek, Chelsea's player-manager Gianluca Vialli should have his French defensive pairing of Franck Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly, absent in Norway, back from injury.
Another defender, Albert Ferrer, has a back problem but is also hoping to be fit, although the midfielder Roberto di Matteo has to serve a one- match ban. With the Italian suspended, Desailly could be asked to move into the centre of the park - a role he often performed for Milan - with Michael Duberry keeping his place in central defence.
Vialli is almost certain to stand down from the attack and recall Gianfranco Zola (right). The little Italian maestro was spared the miserable conditions in Norway, a case of Vialli needing to keep some of his powder dry if Chelsea are to remain in the three-horse race for the Premiership title with Manchester United and Arsenal. Midfielder Bjarne Goldbaek, who has ably covered for long-term injury Gustavo Poyet, and striker Mikael Forssell are available after being cup-tied.
ASTON VILLA (from): Bosnich, Watson, Southgate, Scimeca, Barry, Wright, Stone, Taylor, Hendrie, Draper, Thompson, Merson, Dublin, Collymore, Joachim, Oakes, Delaney, Byfield, Samuel.
CHELSEA (from): De Goey, Ferrer, Duberry, Leboeuf, Le Saux, Goldbaek, Desailly, Wise, Babayaro, Zola, Flo, Forssell, Petrescu, Newton, Nicholls, Terry, Morris, Myers, Lambourde, Hitchcock.
Suspensions: Chelsea: Di Matteo.
Referee: G Barber.
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