PREVIEW: WEEKEND ENGLISH ACTION
ANDREW VORCE - Friday, December 11, 2009
Jozy Altidore and Hull will try to find a way to beat Blackburn with their attacking talisman again sidelined while Tim Howard and the Toffees face a rough time at the Bridge.

Birmingham - West Ham

Jonathan Spector and West Ham will look to pay tribute to Dean Ashton as the London club takes a trip to Birmingham City in Premier League action.

Ashton was forced to retire after warnings from doctors on his overall health and long term mobility. The news comes after nearly four years of rehabilitation work on an ankle injury that the striker picked up while training with the England squad in 2006.

Mark Noble and Robert Green are both out for the Hammers with a virus, but could shake the illness off in time. Valon Behrami, Carlton Cole, Zavon Hines, and Luis Boa Morte are all out with knee injuries, while Calum Davenport is out with a hip injury. Luis Jiminez could feature, but is suffering from a groin injury.

Kevin Phillips is in a race against time to feature for the hosts with an injured ankle, but the same injury is keeping Martin Taylor out until Boxing Day. Stuart Parnaby is set to return at the same time, but Danny Murphy is out with a knee injury. Garry O'Connor is the last Birmingham player out, sidelined through a hip injury.

Hull - Blackburn

Jozy Altidore will look to be inspired by Leeds United's Mike Grella in the FA Cup during the midweek as Hull host Blackburn.

Jimmy Bullard will be a huge loss for the home team as the influential midfielder was forced out of last weekends encounter with Aston Villa. His play in recent weeks had been the catalyst for Hull's rise above the drop zone, and his absence will surely put a strain on the otherwise toothless attack.

The midfielder is out until the new year with a knock to his knee, while Ian Ashbee is out until May with a PCL tear. Seyi Olofinjana is nearing recovery from a hamstring injury.

Blackburn have nearly a full clean bill of health, with David Dunn being the only Rover player sidelined. The midfielder has been out with a calf muscle strain, but looks set to shake it off within the next couple of days.

Chelsea - Everton

Tim Howard and company will look to gain momentum after a remarkable comeback last weekend, and will hope to carry that into a crucial game in London against Chelsea.

Everton continue in their injury crisis, with Joseph Yobo returning to physical therapy. Yobo is one of three out with a hamstring injury, while Dan Gosling and Sylvan Distin joining him. James Vaghan is out with a knee injury, while Leon Osman is out for another week with an ankle injury.

Four other Toffees are out with a knee injury, while Phil Neville leading the pack. Victor Anichebe, Mikkel Arteta, and Phil Jagielka all are set to return after the new year.

Chelsea continue their hot streak, despite a blip against Manchester City and many key injuries. Ashley Cole could slot back into defense after shrugging off an ankle injury, while Daniel Sturridge is out with a hip injury. Michael Ballack is nearing a return from a knee injury. Solomon Kalou is out for another week with a thigh muscle strain, while Alex could shrug off the same injury. Jose Bosingwa is the last Blue out, suffering from a knee injury.

Tottenham - Wolverhampton

Marcus Hahnemann will be ready to stand his ground in the Wolverhampton goal as the American and company take a trip to White Heart Lane to take on a fiery Tottenham Hotspur in London.

Andy Keogh is the most recent injury concern for Wolves, as the striker suffered ankle ligament damage in practice on Thursday. Chris Iwelumo, David Jones, and Ronald Zubar all may make their returns, but M Murray and Michael Kightly are out until the beginning of February.

Tottenham let a two goal lead slip against Everton in their last outing, and will look to set the record straight on home soil.

Ledley King could shake off a hamstring injury, but Wilson Palacios and Jonathan Woodgate look set to sit on the sidelines for a bit. Carlos Cudicini has been out of goal as the keeper has a broken wrist, and is out until May.

Burnley - Fulham

Clint Dempsey will be eager to get back to action as Fulham take the difficult trip to Burnley, while Eddie Johnson will hope to make the bench for the Londoners.

Simon Davies and Dickson Etuhu will be pushing for a spot in training, but are still short of match fitness. Diomansy Kamara has his eyes set on a Boxing Day return, while Andy Johnson continues to nurse a groin strain.

Burnley may have Chris McCann back in practice soon after suffering an MCL injury, and Martin Paterson is right behind him. Jay Rodriguez is the last Claret out, and should make his return from an ankle injury in the new year.

Manchester United - Aston Villa

Brad Friedel will definitely be prepared for a trip to Old Trafford as Brad Guzan and Aston Villa travel to Premier League Champions Manchester United.

Craig Garnder may shake off a back injury ahead of the trip, but James Collins is out with a groin injury. Wilfred Bouma is nearing a return from his ankle injury, while Curtis Davies will be back in mid-January after a dislocated shoulder.

The home team have defensive woes ahead of the visit of the attack minded Villans. United are currently the most injury hit squad in England, having 12 players out. Wayne Rooney should slot back into the attack, while Nemanja Vidic is expected to overcome a virus. Edwin Van Der Sar will push for a return in the back, while Dimitar Berbatov will most likely start out on the bench.

Nani is out with an ankle injury, while Wes Brown is suffering from a hamstring injury. Gary Neville is another defender out of the mix with a groin injury, while Rio Ferdinand is still suffering from a calf muscle strain. Johnny Evans and John O'Shea are out until early January, while Fabio and Owen Hargreaves look to make returns by Christmas.

Watford - Derby County

Jay DeMerit has made a speedy recovery from an August eye surgery, and looks set to continue in the heart of the Hornets defense as Watford host Derby.

The Hornets hope to continue their home momentum after a 3-1 dismantling of QPR last Monday. In that game Arsenal loanee Henri Lansbury's availability for this game was jeopardized after a hip injury. Midfielder Ross Jenkins will also sit out and wait a few games before returning from a back injury.

With wins in the past four matches at Vicarage Road, Watford sit a point out of the coveted seventh spot. Scottish skipper Malky Mackay will rely on the duo of Heidar Helguson and Danny Graham to lead the attack, with 20-year-old Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley posing a potent threat with seven strikes this season.

Meanwhile, Derby's woes on the road have dragged them into the bottom spot in the Championship in terms of away record. Their scoreless draw at Preston North End brought the Rams only their third away point of the season, yet stretched their unbeaten streak to three games.

Chris Porter, Jake Buxton, and Steven Davies are close to returning to Nigel Clough's roster, but Rob Hulse, Dean Leacock and Miles Addison are further away from being back in the fold.

Brentford - Leeds United

Duke product Mike Grella hopes his heroics in Wednesday's FA Cup replay win over Kettering Town will earn him a second look from United coach Simon Grayson. With a FA Cup rendezvous against Manchester United on the horizon, the League One leaders pay a visit to Brentford, holders of the 18th spot in the standings.

In their last League One affair, Leeds could only manage a 2-2 spoil-sharing at home against Huddersfield.

John Bostock will make his final appearance for the Bees before completing his loan and returning to Tottenham. Bradley Johnson and Shane Higgs are inching closer to a return and have resumed training following hip and thigh injuries, respectively. Defenders Patrick Kisnorbo and Richard Naylor still need time to return to action, but Andrew Hughes will be available in the midfield after recovery from a groin injury.

The West Londoners are coming off a 1-0 loss at Tranmere last Saturday, but can take comfort in having conceded only two losses in ten home games this season.

Midfielder Myles Weston and defender Mark Phillips are back in training but will still likely sit out Saturday's meeting. Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny will stand between the posts while Nikki Bull continues recovery.

Carlisle - Wycombe

Jon-Paul Pittman will look to make an impact off of the bench as Wycombe travel to a strong Carlisle team that will be looking to bounce back from a goalless draw at Gillingham.

Wycombe have picked up their play in recent weeks, slowly working their way out of the league's cellar with a run of three victories in their last four.

They can expect to have a tougher time against 12th-place Carlisle United, who have come on strong as of late, winning four of their last six across all competitions and not tasting defeat since their narrow defeat to Swindon three weeks before.

The team will be happy to see the return of captain Paul Thirwell after he sat out with an Achilles injury since September. Coach Greg Abbott will make do without defender Simon Lakeland, midfielder Mark Bridge-Wilkinson and forward Richard Offiong due to various knee injuries while defender David Raven will also miss the game with a hip problem.

Wycombe will be without winger Gareth Ainsworth who is suffering from a calf injury, with Tommy Doherty also likely to miss the game as he recovers from an ankle problem.

Leyton Orient - Milton Keynes Dons

Jemal Johnson will hope to make a return to Paul Ince's lineup on Saturday when the Dons head to struggling Leyton Orient.

Johnson has missed time since late-November due to injury and squad selections but should be ready to go should Ince need his services on Saturday.

The ninth-place Dons are currently within reach of League One's promotion spots with only a one-point gap to the playoff places, but have struggled considerably as of late losing four of their last five in the league.

Leyton have fared slightly better winning two of their last four, but a slow start still sees them closer to the relegation spots in 19th place.

They will be without central defender Tamika Mkandawire who is serving a one-game suspension, but could see the return of Adam Chambers to the midfield after sitting out with an ankle injury.

Ince could be without Mathias Doumbe and Martin Devaney as both will be late decisions after struggling with hamstring injuries, but he will be pleased to have Jermaine Easter back in the lineup after the striker missed the previous three games due to suspension.

Lincoln City - Rochdale

Eric Lichaj should be in Lincoln's back line as they look to snap their eight-game run in the league without a victory when leaders Rochdale visit on Saturday afternoon.

The Red Imps have found themselves unable to earn their way into the win column since their victory over fellow strugglers Macclesfield Town more than two months ago, falling to a troublesome 22nd place in League Two, just four points above the drop zone.

Lichaj has solidified his spot in the team's starting lineup during his loan spell, but will face perhaps his toughest test with the team against the free-scoring league leaders Rochdale.

The Imps could be boosted by the possible return of defender Paul Green, who would be making his first appearance of the season after long-term hip injury, but will possibly be without the midfield duo of Anthony Pulis and Sergio Torres, both hobbled with ankle troubles.

Rochdale have a long list of injuries to contend with, most notably team captain Gary Jones and forward Will Buckley. Keepers Kenny Arthur and Matty Edwards will also both stay on the sidelines, meaning that Tom Heaton, on loan from Manchester United, will keep his starting spot for one more week.

Notes

Frank Simek looks to have been moved to the bench for Sheffield Wednesday who take on seventh-place Leicester City.

Zak Whitbread will hope for his first appearance after missing several months with a hip injury on Saturday when Millwall host Walsall.

Ian Joyce will hope to make the bench for Southend who host Hartlepool.

Seb Harris will look to make the bench as Northampton host Port Vale.