Football: Gregory loses his grip again: Everton 0 Aston Villa 0

Pressure grows for two managers badly in need of a win
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The Independent Online
IT IS to John Gregory's credit that his struggling Villa team finished this contest as the most likely of two mediocre sides to score a decisive goal. It is not to his credit, however, that only 24 hours after being handed a 28-day ban from the touchline - due to start on 13 December - he kicked his own physio's medical bag on to the pitch in frustration while standing in the coach's technical zone.

Both facts unfortunately help to sum up the dilemma in which Gregory and Villa are trapped. The temperamental manager has good players, a steady system, but no inspiration or cutting edge. And he clearly does not know how to solve this problem and thereby rekindle the form which last winter saw Villa leading the Premiership on New Year's Day.

Time may be running out for Gregory. Villa have not won in eight games and his chairman, "Deadly" Doug Ellis, may soon be itching for the trigger unless their form changes dramatically and they can challenge for a place in Europe.

Given his problems and the disappointment of seeing Benito Carbone, the substitute, hitting the post with a last-minute shot after the Everton defender Richard Dunne had slipped and lost possession, it was surprising that the volatile Gregory was not more outspoken than he was after the game.

Indeed, by his own standards, he was subdued. "We should have won it, not could have," he said through clenched teeth. "But that is the way our season has been going. I never like to feel satisfied with a draw, and I'm not today. But I was pleased that my players showed that they would roll up their sleeves and get on with it."

Gregory is now hoping Villa can embark on a long unbeaten run which will lift them up the Premiership and, he hopes, also carry them through to the final stages of the Worthington Cup. In this competition, they face Southampton on Wednesday and Newcastle on Saturday, both at home. Two wins, he pointed out, and all those who are calling for his head may well be silenced.

"It has been one of those weeks, but a lot of what has been written in the tabloids has been wrong and purely hysterical stuff," said Gregory. "I have fallen out with a few of them. It has made my Christmas card list a bit shorter this year. People are looking for things that are not there and many of them are writing things their sports editors tell them to write - or that's at least what they are telling me."

The besieged Villa manager, whose team have taken only three points from their last eight outings, attempted to make light of the incident in the closing minutes when the fourth official told him to calm down after he had given vent to his feelings as Everton applied desperate pressure in the closing seconds.

"I don't think he will report me, at least I hope not," said Gregory, who declined an invitation to discuss the pounds 5,000 fine and four weeks' ban he received on Friday for abusing a fourth official earlier in the season.

Instead, honestly reflecting on a game he admitted accurately was poor viewing, he drew comfort from small things. "The boys worked very hard for each other and if we go on like this we should be OK. Dion [Dublin] was chasing and closing people down right into the second half and I thought we showed plenty of spirit, effort and enthusiasm. When things go against you, that can be the one important factor that helps you and helps the club get out of trouble."

Gregory's counterpart, Walter Smith, was disappointed after seeing his side outplayed for brief spells of a game during which they failed to break a winless run which now stretches back to 27 September. They have not won at home for longer than that, last having tasted victory at Goodison when they overcame West Ham on 19 September, so there is little satisfaction in extending their unbeaten sequence on home soil to eight outings.

"We never imposed ourselves fully on the game and, as a result, we had very few scoring opportunities," admitted Smith.

Carbone's late chance apart, there were only five flashings of the referee's yellow card to interrupt proceedings in which Francis Jeffers promised to break the deadlock with occasional exhibitions of his skill. But even he was sucked into the stalemate by the end.