Tense times for Houllier as Aston Villa approach crucial run-in

Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel described rumours of a dressing room rebellion at Villa Park as “laughable”, but the Midlands club’s current predicament immersed in a relegation battle is far from a laughing matter.

Pressure has been building on Gerard Houllier’s reign since last week’s 1-0 home defeat against rivals Wolves, leaving a contingent of Villa followers to call for the Frenchman’s dismissal after the final whistle. Now with only eight Premier League matches left to play until the end of the season, Villa’s inconsistent campaign leaves them just one point above the relegation zone.

With half of those fixtures coming against sides positioned in and around the Villa Park outfit, they will need to pull together as one if they are to stay out of trouble – something they have failed to do all too often of late. Since taking charge at Aston Villa in September, Houllier has struggled to win the home faithful over and faces a battle – starting at Goodison Park against Everton on Saturday – to repay the financial faith club owner Randy Lerner has shown.

Lerner underlined his ambition to drive Aston Villa forward with the £24million acquisition of Darren Bent in January, but has since seen a talented squad built from Martin O’Neill’s tenure at the club falter. Houllier inherited O’Neill’s team but has failed to stamp his mark on proceedings, which is why many believe the club’s ownership will look to change the managerial set-up in the summer.

However, to do this a Premier League place needs to be secured and following three successive defeats the task has been made all the more difficult. Aston Villa assistant manager Gary McAllister said the players are under no illusions at the task at hand.

“I’ve seen some of the players talking about pride, playing for the fans, playing for the jersey – they know we’re in a bit of trouble and we need to produce,” he said. “We’ve got enough quality and goals in the team and we all believe we’ll be good enough to come out the other side.” The former Scottish international went on to reserve special praise for the manager he played under at Anfield as a Liverpool player. “Gerard Houllier is a proven manager – I’m working under somebody who’s had to make big decisions, won things,” said the Scot.

That experience which McAllister alluded to may prove crucial in the end of season run-in if Aston Villa are to increase the gap between themselves and the bottom three – leaving all at Villa Park to breathe a little easier.

Do not expect it to be as simple.

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