Aston Villa Club Focus - McLeish faces his toughest test yet in season-defining week
The last five Premier League games of the season are drawing ever closer. Aston Villa fans have recently been used to this time as a cooling down period, a chance to relive a season that promised much but delivered little. To recount the glorious victories, terrific performances, and to wonder what might have been. For the players it would be time to begin planning their summer activities, safe in the knowledge that next season they will start their journey in the Premier League again.
The story of the final five games for this season is a much more dark and gloomy one for everyone surrounding the club. When fans relive the 2011-12 season, it will be more a story of horror than of fairy tale. They will shudder as phrases like ‘cost cutting’ and ‘season of transition’ play over and over in their minds. Pain and torment will rise to the surface as they recall several of the dismal performances throughout the entire season. The amount of games played is edging closer to the total amount of goals scored, with each goal being cherished by the Villa faithful like a mini victory against the defensive tyrant that is McLeish. The tale of this season is one of survival.
For McLeish, his battle to win over the fans raged long before this current campaign even began. Switching allegiances in a rivalry so fierce as Birmingham City and Villa was never going to be a popular move, and so it has proven. During the next week, McLeish will have a great chance to win over those very few who remain teetering on the fence, as he enters arguably the most important week in his managerial career.
Villa kick-off a double header of home games on Saturday when they welcome Sunderland to Villa Park, followed by the re-arranged fixture against lowly Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday evening. McLeish has targeted six more points if they are to stay up, a tally that would have been easily achievable in the remaining fixtures for many seasons prior to this one. Having only managed a total of eight points in their last 11 league games, Villa must improve if they are to meet the target their manager has set.
If Villa were to win their two next league games, then they will be easily safe for another season in the Premier League. With Richard Dunne returning to training following his lengthy spell out injured, and Stephen Warnock, Chris Herd and Ciaran Clark winning their fitness battles for Saturday, the signs are looking positive. Anything less than six points, and Villa will be heading into their final three league games of the season needing to get something from them to stay up. Those games include a tough local derby with West Bromwich Albion, a difficult home fixture against Champions League-chasing Tottenham Hotspur, and ending with a tricky tie away to Norwich City. Villa will not be the favourites to win any of those ties
The next two fixtures may well decide Villa's fate. Two wins and they are safe, two losses and they will be among the favourites for relegation. One thing is clear - this could develop into a hugely important week for Aston Villa, and could decide whether Alex McLeish's future lies at Villa, or whether the owners may be forced into a change.
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