Express & Star

Birthday boy Grant Holt eyes Aston Villa win

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Villa's season has hardly been a cakewalk and birthday boy Grant Holt isn't about to let the claret and blues offer any more gift-wrapped points.

The striker turns 33 tomorrow as Villa face Crystal Palace knowing a place in next season's Premier League is the ultimate present.

Their top-flight future has been a game of snakes and ladders this season as they climb to mid-table, only to slip back and face again the threat of the drop.

Saturday's 2-1 defeat to struggling Fulham – and an unwanted home record of 10 league defeats – was symptomatic of the campaign.

But, now 13th in the table ahead of the trip to Selhurst Park, Holt wants to wrap the season up in style.

"I don't think you can worry about results in this division," he said. "You can easily go on a four or five-game winning run depending on who you're playing and where you are. You can only ever worry about the next game.

"We've got Palace away, we know they're in fine form and playing well.

"We'll hopefully have a few lads back to help us out and bump the squad out a bit.

"We want the points and achieve a level quickly. We know we're there or thereabouts and it's blatant to see there's only seven points down to the bottom three.

"But as a group and as Aston Villa I'd rather be on the points we're on than other people.

"You have to see the positives and look where we are. We're in a better position than we were last year so we will be fine."

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But Holt dismissed any suggestions the team are affected mentally by their Villa Park troubles having lost 12 times at home this season.

"When you do play at home it's a different mindset altogether. Fulham had a game plan to frustrate and then hit us on the counter. The difference is when you're at home it's margins. If we go 2-1 up it's a different game but we didn't.

"Matt Lowton made a great clearance off the line and you think 'that's the turning point'. You are expected to perform at home, you are expected to win and expected to put on a show. At the moment we're doing the show but we're not winning."

Holt will again lead the line in the injured Christian Benteke's absence after scoring his first goal for the club against Fulham.

He was brought in as back-up after signing on loan from Wigan in January but finds himself the centrepiece of the club's forward line for the final six games.

And while he was pleased to net his first goal since August, Holt admitted he still felt Villa deserved a result.

"It's never sweet when you score and don't win but I'm pleased to get off the mark and get the 90 minutes more importantly and get ready for the run we've got coming up," said the former Norwich ace.

"We're disappointed with the result, I felt we should have got at least a point but that's football. You live and die at both ends of the pitch and we didn't take our chances at one and conceded a bad goal at the other.

"I thought we played well, we had chances. Andi's (Weimann) had a header just over the bar, Leo's (Bacuna) hit the post and I had one to make it 2-2. It's not like we're not creating. The first goal was a great strike but we could have got closer, the second goal we had four or five opportunities to clear it and never did.

"That's the margins. A goal in the 85th minute kind of kills you but as a group we're disappointed. The one thing the lads did do was keep working until the end.

"It's not about looking to stay out of trouble, it's about cementing yourself as a team. We don't want to get beaten, as a group we need to improve and be a bit mentally stronger and stop giving away cheap goals."

Benteke was due to undergo an operation on his damaged Achilles this week which is expected to keep him out for at least six months.

Karim El Ahmadi (thigh) and Gabby Agbonlahor (sickness) could return after missing the Fulham defeat.

Tony Pulis expects to pick from a fully fit squad and a win would take Palace above Villa in the table.