Thursday media watch [20.04.14 AM]: Vlaar/Gardner in focus
Birmingham Mail: Ron Vlaar did not expect Villa to get into relegation trouble this season - but the claret and blue captain admits they are nervously looking over their shoulders. Villa are four points above the Premier League drop zone and four points better off than the same stage a year ago going into Sunday's clash at Newcastle. Vlaar admits Paul Lambert's team remain too close for comfort in the congested survival scrap which threatens to engulf the entire bottom half of the top-flight table.
Sheffield Star: Midfielder Gary Gardner has revealed how two former Owls loanees played an integral role in persuading him to move to Hillsborough. Gardner, signed on a one-month loan deal from Aston Villa last week, decided to link-up with the Championship outfit after speaking to Ross Barkley and Connor Wickham. The 21-year-old is good friends with Barkley and Wickham, having played with the duo at England youth level. Both Barkley and Wickham have benefited from loan spells with Sheffield Wednesday in the last two seasons. Now Barkley is a first-team regular at Everton while Wickham has been told he will get a chance to stake his claim at Sunderland.
Clubcall: Crystal Palace striker Marouane Chamakh has emerged as a surprise transfer target for Premier League rivals Aston Villa. Chamakh had a tough time of it during his time with Arsenal, while he also struggled on loan at West Ham, but appears to have got his career back on track since joining the Eagles at the start of the season. The Moroccan has bagged five goals so far this season and his form has not gone unnoticed at Villa Park, with Paul Lambert said to be keen on lining up a summer swoop.
Sky Sports: Aston Villa captain Ron Vlaar has said that fellow defender Jores Okore should not be rushed back into action. The 21-year-old centre-back is on his way to full recovery from a cruciate ligament injury that he suffered in September. The Denmark international was initially expected to be out for nine months, but he could now be back on the pitch in March. Vlaar is pleased with Okore's progress, but has warned his team-mate of the pitfalls of making a return before fully recovering.
Sunderland Echo: Cheick Tiote is battling to be fit to face Aston Villa at St James's Park - with boss Alan Pardew hoping he can kick Newcastle United's season back into life. Tough-tackling Tiote has sat out the last two games with a hamstring problem. And his absence has been keenly given the lack of a specialist defensive midfielder to deputise. Newcastle conceded seven goals without reply in successive Premier League defeats to Tottenham and Chelsea. But manager Pardew remains hopeful that the 27-year-old will be fit for Sunday's home game.
Sunderland Echo: Loic Remy is "sharp" and ready to take out his frustration on Aston Villa - in the right way. The Newcastle forward will start Sunday's home Premier League game after serving a three-match ban, following his clash with Norwich's Bradley Johnson at Carrow Road last month. The 27-year-old - the Magpies' leading scorer with 11 goals - has been a huge miss, with Newcastle having failed to score in his absence. And the on-loan QPR player is looking to get the beleaguered Tynesiders' faltering Premier League campaign back up and running.
Hartlepool Mail: Super stopper Shay Given has thanked the Boro fans for their "fantastic" support during his impressive loan stint on Teesside. The short-term signing of the experienced keeper proved to be a masterstroke by Boro boss Aitor Karanka as the Irishman played a huge part in helping Boro move away from the danger zone and up the Championship table. The 37-year-old kept eight clean sheets in 10 games including five consecutive shut-outs as Boro got much-needed wins under the belt during the Christmas period. But Karanka was unable to tie Given down until the end of the season during the frantic final hours on deadline day last month.
Best of the Rest
BBC Sport: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger believes the referee "killed the game" after he sent off goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny during the first leg of their last-16 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich. Nicola Rizzoli showed Szczesny a red card after he tripped Bayern's Arjen Robben in the first half of Wednesday's 2-0 defeat at home to the holders.
Sky Sports: Pep Guardiola admits he was "so happy" to see Bayern Munich beat Arsenal 2-0 after losing on his two previous visits to Emirates Stadium. The ex-Barcelona coach endured two winless visits with his former Spanish employers but expressed his delight after Wednesday's triumph.
BBC Sport: Former Everton striker Duncan Ferguson is to join the Toffees' first-team coaching set-up on a permanent basis. Ferguson, 42, has been on the coaching staff at Everton since 2011, having played more than 250 times for them.
*The extracts on this page are taken from various newspapers and media outlets. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Aston Villa.