McLeish sees bright future for Villa

Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish believes the crop of youngsters coming through the club's ranks means there is plenty to look forward to in the future.

The Scot used six players aged 23 or under for Saturday's 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield, in which Chris Herd's 10th-minute goal was cancelled out by a late Luis Suarez strike.

Herd and Eric Lichaj, both 23, Barry Bannan, 22, and Nathan Baker, 20, all started while Andreas Weimann, 20, Gary Gardner and Samir Carruthers, both 19, came off the bench.

The average age of Villa's outfield substitutes was just 19 and a half and McLeish hopes all his younger players will develop into reliable first-team regulars.

"The first half performance was great and I'm very proud of the young players, helped by the experienced players in the team," he said.

"Sometimes you have to find out the hard way when you are not sure if they are ready and then they go and produce performances like that.

"In terms of their application we know that is the first thing we ask from them but when they show us some of the qualities they have done in terms of possession and what we expect from them then they have done well.

"Andreas Weimann came off with an injury last weekend and did not train all week and we felt it was a risk to start him after his performance against Chelsea.

"Gary Gardner did not train all week due to a virus and these young boys are doing Villa proud, they will run their hearts out for the club.

"They are real young lions and a credit to the academy. Nathan Baker looks like he could be a great young centre-half.

"There are so many I can mention - Samir Carruthers came on as a sub and had the cheek to take on Stevie Gerrard on the right wing but I suppose that shows the confidence of the young players.

"They really have high opinions of themselves without being too cocky.

"Chris Herd has had to get a fast-track in the Premier League and you can see the progress he has made and he scored a terrific goal."

The point at Anfield ended a run of two defeats and eased some of the worries about the club being sucked into a late relegation battle.

They have little time to recover as they host Stoke at Villa Park.

Forward Andreas Weimann is in contention for a recall. The Austrian came off the bench against Liverpool having not trained all week because of an ankle injury.

Midfielder Gary Gardner was also a used substitute despite struggling with a virus.

Meanwhile, Stoke midfielder Dean Whitehead believes there are few strikers in the top flight better than Peter Crouch at the moment.

Crouch headed home the winner from Jermaine Pennant's free-kick in the Potters' 2-1 home victory over Wolves to take his goal tally for the campaign to 13 in all competitions.

In the previous game at the Britannia Stadium, a 1-1 draw with Manchester City, he volleyed in a contender for goal of the season and there has been plenty of talk about whether or not the 31-year-old should be given an England recall in time for Euro 2012.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis said that if the decision was his, "game changer" Crouch would certainly be going to the tournament.

And the tall frontman has also received praise from his team-mate Whitehead, who feels he is right up there with the best in the Barclays Premier League.

"I thought the front lads were absolutely brilliant (against Wolves)," Whitehead told the club's official website.

"Crouchy and Jon (Walters) never stopped all game, and the deliveries from the wingers (Pennant and Matthew Etherington) were top notch as always.

"When you give players like Crouchy that sort of quality, they are going to score goals.

"He has scored quite a few recently, and I really don't think there are many better than him in the league at the moment."

Stoke boss Tony Pulis is set to freshen up his side for the clash at Villa Park.

Among the changes could be defender Andy Wilkinson, who had been nursing a groin complaint in the build-up to Saturday's game and was not a part of the matchday squad.

Source: PA