BIRMINGHAM, February 28 – After watching Aston Villa crash out of the UEFA and FA cups and suffer a blow in their bid for a top-four Premier League finish, arguably one of the last teams Martin O'Neill would have wanted to face were Tony Pulis's Stoke.
O’Neill and his Aston Villa players only landed back in England on Friday from a sapping trip to Russia and they have precious little time to recover from a demoralising period before resuming their bid to secure a berth in next season’s Champions League.
They remain well in contention for a place in the top four, despite the defeat to Chelsea at Villa Park last Saturday, and O’Neill, whose side lost to Everton in the FA Cup fifth round and CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Cup, has demanded an instant return to league points on Sunday.
Stoke have made putting noses out of joint an art form this season and their muscular, abrasive approach has already claimed O’Neill as a prized scalp this term.
But Curtis Davies, Villa’s England international defender, insists there will be no mention of revenge, following their 3-2 defeat at the Britannia Stadium in August, when the sides clash at Villa Park on Sunday.
"Our priority now is the Premier League and we have to push on now for that top-four spot," he said.
"We need to pick up our home form again, starting against Stoke. They are down there near the relegation zone but that shouldn’t fool anyone because they are a really tough side to play against."
"People will talk about revenge but that genuinely doesn’t interest us. At this stage of the season – with us pushing really hard in the league – it’s all about the three points."
Davies is expected to be one of the few survivors to have played in the UEFA Cup game at CSKA, in what was virtually a reserve side. Gareth Barry, Emile Heskey, Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor are almost certain to return.
Meanwhile, Mali international Mamady Sidibe is determined to finally end Stoke’s travel sickness, and secure their first double of the season.
Sidibe wants to haunt O’Neill for the second time this season after stunning Villa with a stoppage time winner in August.
But Stoke’s away record will not fill them with confidence, as they have crashed to an alarming ten defeats from 13 away games this season.
And Sidibe insists they have to secure their first away win in the top flight soon or risk sliding back to the Championship.
He said: "We have to go there and win because we must do that to survive in the Premier League. We’ve been to Liverpool and drawn and got beaten in the last few minutes at Chelsea so there’s no doubt that we can do it at Villa."
"To go to Villa will be a hard game because they are fourth in the table but we want to try and make it our first double of the season."