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Preview: West Bromwich Albion vs. Aston Villa

Sports Mole previews the Midlands derby between West Brom and Aston Villa at The Hawthorns, in which crucial Premier League points and local bragging rights are at stake.

Aston Villa can climb into the top half of the Premier League table with victory over local rivals West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns on Saturday.

Wins over Crystal Palace and Leicester City have lifted Paul Lambert's side to 11th and they will go above Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur with another victory.

Six straight defeats during a nine-match winless run had seen the Villans drop towards the relegation zone, but they are now seven points clear of the bottom three.

Gabriel Agbonlahor has admitted that Christian Benteke's return to the team following injury and suspension has played a major role in their upturn in form.

It was defenders Ciaran Clark and Alan Hutton, though, who scored the goals as Villa beat the Foxes 2-1 last weekend, and now they prepare for another Midlands derby.

West Brom find themselves in an almost identical position to where Villa were a few weeks ago - on an alarming slide down the table and desperately short of goals.

A 0-0 draw at fellow strugglers Hull City ended their four-match losing streak, but that stalemate marked the fourth time in five matches that Albion failed to find the net.

That makes Alan Irvine's decision to drop Saido Berahino, who has seven of their 14 top-flight goals this season, for the trip to the KC Stadium all the more puzzling.

The England Under-21 star has been linked with a January move to either Liverpool or Spurs, but Irvine has insisted that he is not unsettled and will be staying put.

Berahino will likely be recalled to the XI, with either Victor Anichebe or Stephane Sessegnon partnering him up front, hoping to add to their measly goal tallies of one apiece.

Captain Chris Brunt is a major doubt for the Baggies with a hamstring strain and so Porto loanee Silvestre Varela could make a full debut, having made several substitute cameos since recovering from groin surgery.

Jonas Olsson and Georgios Samaras are missing through injury, while Claudio Yacob is back from suspension, but unlikely to start in a home midfield which is likely to include former Villa man Craig Gardner.

Lambert revealed that key duo Ron Vlaar and Fabian Delph are back in full training, and the latter could be fast-tracked back into the starting lineup, with Ashley Westwood out and Tom Cleverley unlikely to feature.

Villa are also missing Philippe Senderos, Libor Kozak, Joe Cole and Nathan Baker, which means that Clark and Jores Okore should continue the young centre-back partnership that has performed well in recent weeks.

Andreas Weimann is available again after serving a one-match ban and should return on the wing at the expense of Charles N'Zogbia. The versatile Kieran Richardson may be asked to play in an injury-hit midfield.

Four of the last five meetings between these sides have been draw, and contained 17 goals in total.

West Brom:

Recent form: WLLLLD

Possible starting lineup: Foster; Wisdom, McAuley, Lescott, Pocognoli; Dorrans, Gardner, Morrison, Varela; Sessegnon, Berahino

Aston Villa:

Recent form: LDDDWW

Possible starting lineup: Guzan; Hutton, Okore, Clark, Cissokho; Delph, Sanchez, Richardson; Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor

Sports Mole says: 1-0

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Mile Jedinak of Crystal Palace celebrates with team mates as he scores their first and equalising goal from a penalty during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Crystal Palace at Liberty Stadium on November 29, 2014
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