BIRMINGHAM ENGLAND - JANUARY 16: James Collins of Aston Villa jumps for joy as he celebrates the equalising goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Birmingham City and Aston Villa at St Andrews on January 16 2011 in Birmingham England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
This likely won't come as much of a surprise to anyone that saw James Collins do the awkward wide-stance-groin-pull-shuffle into the tunnel just before halftime on Saturday, but it's now been confirmed that the defender has been ruled out for Tuesday's crucial match against Bolton Wanderers. Gabby Agbonlahor will face a late fitness test after suffering a shoulder injury in early on against the Black Cats and being withdrawn just after the start of the second half; if he's unable to play, Emile Heskey will likely get the start. Depending on the availability of Ciaran Clark, Villa could have as few as two central defenders with Premier League experience available against the Trotters in Carlos Cuellar and Nathan Baker. If someone had told me two months ago that I'd soon find myself longing for the Shane Lowry era, I probably would have cried.
Baker was quite good against Sunderland and really looks to be taking his game to the next level, while Cuellar is generally a pretty reliable option. It's not an ideal central defensive pairing, but it's at the very least adequate and not any cause for immediate concern. It's the prospect of one of the two being injured or sent off that worries me; if Clark is fit to play it's less of an issue, but if not, then what? Chris Herd or Eric Lichaj shift to the middle? Derrick Williams-who doesn't even have a Wikipedia page for the love of god-makes his first team debut? I'd rather not think about it.
In better news, Richard Dunne will soon be making a return to training and could make his return to the team in time for the game against Spurs. No time-table has been given for Collins' return, but seeing as how he's dealing with a strain rather than a pull or tear there's a good chance he'll be back in action by the weekend. This doesn't appear to be an injury crisis that's going to linger, but unfortunately it's coming at pretty much the worst possible time; Villa not only need to come out of the Bolton game with a win, they need to come out all in one piece.