Aston Villa have made a direct appeal to their fans to back the club in a time of crisis as the build-up to Sunday's relegation battle with West Bromwich Albion continues.

With increasingly large sections of the Villa fan base growing disillusioned at another season of under-achievement, assistant manager Roy Aitken has called on their followers to help them turn round their parlous home form.

Villa lie 16th in the Premiership, just eight points above the drop zone, and with only one league win at home in 2006 the visit from a desperate local rival could be the last thing they need.

Another defeat would not only propel them closer to the bottom of the table but might prove a fatal blow to the tenure of manager David O'Leary.

That's why Aitken wants Villa fans to put their mouths where their money is. "We'd like to use our fans to get the most from the home advantage," he said.

"The fans have got a huge part to play this weekend - I know from playing derbies myself, the supporters can really spur you on. That's where home advantage comes into it because you've got the bulk of the crowd behind you and that can give the players an extra edge."

Playing in front of their own fans might not be such an advantage if Villa's recent form is anything to go by.

Only Portsmouth have been beaten in a league match this year and just Pompey and Sunderland have won fewer times on their own patch. By contrast Villa have a better away record than Arsenal including victories at The Hawthorns and St Andrew's.

"Our home form hasn't been good this year, but our away form has been very good and a derby game is a different scenario," said Aitken.

"We've got home advantage, but we went to Albion and Birmingham and won both times when they had home advantage."

Villa's prospects could be improved by the return of Milan Baros, who has missed the last three matches with an ankle problem. In that time Baros has emerged as a target for Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal.

Skipper Olof Mellberg is also expected to recover from a hamstring injury to face Albion.

"It's important we get our experienced players back in the team," Aitken said. "They've been through it before - Olof's our captain and Milan scored the winner against West Brom.

"Milan's a threat. You can see that by his scoring record which has been good since he's been here. He may have scored more but for injuries and the games he's missed.

"The fact is, he works defenders and as a former defender myself, the hardest players to play against are the ones who work you and try and get in behind."

Meanwhile, the most obvious fact in British football - that Mathieu Berson will not play another game for Villa - became even clearer yesterday when the Frenchman's agent, Olivier Jouanneaux, said his client would not return to the club.

The midfielder has spent the season on loan at Auxerre.

"Personally, I believe Mathieu could not go back to Villa to live the same season as last year or the one Eric Djemba-Djemba is currently experiencing," Jouanneaux said. "A positive solution may have to be found in respect to the parties' interests.

"Mathieu is quite confident with his future. He has still two years left on his contract with Aston Villa and he knows the usual Spanish clubs are following him. He will wait for Villa to tell him what it wants him to do."

There are no signs that Auxerre will make a permanent move, though, since the French side are stalling on their contract negotiations with most of their players. Espanyol may rekindle their interest if the 26-year-old moves on again. ..SUPL: