Aston Villa’s James Collins will this weekend face the suitors who tried to sign him, encouraged by a ringing endorsement from his predecessor for club and country.

Collins was pursued by Stoke City manager Tony Pulis, as well as Villa boss Martin O’Neill, when he was made available for a transfer from West Ham early in the season.

Mark Delaney, who preceded Collins in the Wales national team and the claret and blue side, reckons Stoke’s loss was very much Villa’s gain when he joined in a £5 million deal last August.

O’Neill’s Champions League hopefuls return to Premier League action at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday after two weekends in the Carling Cup final and the last eight of the FA Cup.

Delaney, who now works as a youth coach at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training academy, is convinced the presence of Collins in the back four will help them stand up to the Potters’ physical approach.

“I played with James quite a bit in the Welsh set-up,” said the retired right-back who played more than 150 times for Villa between 1999 and 2007.

“He will head it, but he can pass the ball too, he’s not just a hoofer. He doesn’t just kick it the way he’s facing, if he can get it down and play, he will.

“First and foremost though, he’s a natural defender. He can defend with his life and put his body on the line.

“He’s the same in training as he is in games. That’s what you want to see – a will to win. That’s the James I know. The way he trains is the way he plays. That speaks volumes for his attitude.”

Collins captained the Wales team in Craig Bellamy’s absence for last week’s defeat to Sweden at Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium.

And Delaney believes his fellow former Cardiff City defender could go on to wear the armband for John Toshack’s Dragons on a regular basis.

“I think he has the capability of doing it,” added Delaney. “He is one of the most experienced Welsh players now.

“As a youngster he was very level-headed. And now he tries to help the youngsters as much as he can.

“He obviously came through and knows what it’s all about. He’s a leader and he would tell the younger players ‘I am behind you all the way’.

“If he gives 110 per cent you know everyone in the team will do the same.”

Meanwhile, Villa’s FA Cup quarter-final hat-trick hero John Carew is sweating over whether he has done enough to warrant a starting role in Saturday’s game.

Carew has scored 11 times for O’Neill’s team this season and has notched in all of the club’s three Premier League games against Stoke, including the winner in the 1-0 Villa Park victory in December.