James Collins: It's time for Villa to kick on

James Collins today challenged Villa to build on Saturday's draw with Chelsea and develop a head of steam going into the crunch pre-Christmas period.

James Collins today challenged Villa to build on Saturday's draw with Chelsea and develop a head of steam going into the crunch pre-Christmas period.

The claret and blues head to Sunderland on Saturday sitting eighth in the table after eight games, just three points behind Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham.

With the next international breaks not until March, attention will now become firmly focused on the domestic calendar.

Games against Birmingham, Fulham and Blackpool are awaiting Villa after this weekend, before a tricky run of fixtures against United, Blackburn, Arsenal and Liverpool which brings them into early December.

And Collins believes it is a period that will have a big say on their season.

"It's been a bit of a stuttering start but we've had some good results," said Collins.

"And there's no international breaks to get in the way now until after Christmas so we can really focus on club football and getting back to winning ways and keeping clean sheets.

"The lead-up to Christmas is big and we've got some really tough games so hopefully we can start on Saturday and keep the confidence high and take that it."

Gerard Houllier's record from his four games stands at two wins, a draw and a defeat and Collins believes the Frenchman has already got Villa playing their best football during the Welshman's time at the club.

"It has been great so far," added Collins. "The manager has come in and settled in straight away. He has got his own ideas across.

"It is still early days for him and his coaching staff so we are still getting to know each other and the style he likes to play. In the first half two weeks ago at Tottenham it was the best football we have played since I've been here maybe, the way in which we were knocking it about."

"We were very disappointed with the result but the positives we can take out of that are that we can play that sort of football and get it down and play.  We will be looking to do that all game, not just the first half on Saturday."

Villa hope to have Marc Albrighton, Luke Young and Emile Heskey back for the clash but Gabby Agbonlahor is again expected to miss out.