Angel injury leaves Villa deprived of firepower

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The Independent Online

The Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel looks certain to be ruled out of the derby with Birmingham after a visit to the specialist revealed ankle ligament damage.

The Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel looks certain to be ruled out of the derby with Birmingham after a visit to the specialist revealed ankle ligament damage.

The Colombian international will be out of action for at least two weeks with the injury he suffered in training 48 hours before last weekend's game against Middlesbrough. That will mean Angel being on the sidelines for the meeting with Steve Bruce's side at St Andrews on 20 March.

It also leaves the Villa manager, David O'Leary, with only two fit strikers in Darius Vassell - just back from a five-month lay-off with a broken ankle - and the inexperienced Luke Moore for the derby. In addition to Angel, Villa have already lost the services of Carlton Cole - on loan from Chelsea - with a knee injury and he has returned to the London club to have the problem assessed.

Angel's setback is the latest in a miserable season for Villa's club-record £9.5m signing from River Plate. He has struggled to find his form since suffering a knee injury last summer and has managed only seven goals in all competitions. It is in contrast to the 2003-2004 season when Angel was one of the hottest properties in the Premiership with 23 goals and was linked with a move to Arsenal.

Villa are still hoping the midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger will put pen to paper on a new contract. The German international's current deal runs out in the summer and he is attracting interest from several clubs in his native country. Hitzlsperger is looking for regular first-team football to bolster his chances of making the German team for the 2006 World Cup finals, but only came on as a substitute against Middlesbrough.

The Villa chairman, Doug Ellis, said Hitzlsperger would be "very foolish" if he rejects the new contract. Villa have held talks with representatives of the player with Ellis insisting "an excellent offer" has been by the club.

"Thomas is a good lad and we have given him an excellent offer considering what he is on now and what he would be getting although I don't talk about the figures," Ellis said. "He's 22 and we want him to stay and he has had a very good offer. He would be very foolish if he didn't sign this contract.

"Personally I would be very sad if he decided to go elsewhere. He shouldn't need to. I know he is settled here."

Ellis also said that Villa will be taking up the 12-month option on Mark Delaney's contract. The defender is looking for a new long-term deal, but his representative, Richard Rosser, did not receive a positive response when he met O'Leary.

Villa's decision to take up the extra year's option means Delaney is contracted with the Midlands club until the summer of 2007.

"It's no problem," said Ellis. "Mark has two years and four months left at the moment and that's plenty of time.

"The manager must hold the decision on players. But I would suggest he would not decide on another year on Mark when he has one and a half years left. The one-year option will be taken up. Why not?"

Ellis added: "Mark's agent wanted to see me and was upset that I wouldn't see him. I told him to see the manager."

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