Savage says Villa fans back red card appeal

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The Independent Online

Robbie Savage, the Birmingham City midfielder, claims to have received messages of support from Aston Villa fans in his attempt to have his red card against Northern Ireland overturned.

Robbie Savage, the Birmingham City midfielder, claims to have received messages of support from Aston Villa fans in his attempt to have his red card against Northern Ireland overturned.

Savage is facing the prospect of being suspended for Wales' crucial World Cup qualifier with England next month after his sending-off against the Irish following a clash with Michael Hughes at the Millennium Stadium. The former Leicester player, who will face Lincoln City in tonight's home Carling Cup match, has employed a team of London solicitors and is threatening to take legal action if Fifa, the football's governing body, do not review his dismissal.

But it is the backing from Villa fans - who normally regard Savage as their public enemy No 1 - which has surprised the 29-year-old, who was also banned for three games for violent conduct in the home meeting with Chelsea via the Football Association video panel.

"It has been a miserable few weeks for me," Savage said. "First there was the ban for Birmingham and then to go away with Wales and get sent off for the first time in my career was disappointing.

"It was particularly hard because again I didn't do anything wrong. I've even had Villa fans coming up to me in the street and saying how unlucky I was. I know I must have been unlucky if that is the case! A lot of people have said I had it coming to me because of the way they perceive I play.

"But I've never gone in with the intention of injuring anyone and I have learned to take all the criticism with a pinch of salt." Savage is relishing the prospect of being back playing after making the return from his domestic ban in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Charlton. He said: "I just want to make up for lost time."

Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, will be forced to make one change to his starting line-up with midfielder Damien Johnson ruled out after his red card against the Addicks. Bruce will check on the fitness of striker Mikael Forssell, who has been sidelined with a knee injury, but will not rush him back into action.

Elsewhere, the Manchester City manager, Kevin Keegan, sends his side into Carling Cup combat with Barnsley tonight wondering if he will join the list of managers who transformed their clubs while on the brink of dismissal.

City answered their critics in the best possible manner on Saturday, ending seven days of torment by grabbing a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace to ease the pressure on their manager. Club officials rejected reports that Keegan would have been sacked had the result gone the other way. The same was said at Everton and Manchester United about Howard Kendall and Sir Alex Ferguson before vital Cup victories over Oxford and Nottingham Forest a couple of decades ago. Both men went on to become legends at their club, using their good fortune to launch trophy-winning eras at Goodison Park and Old Trafford.

Keegan has been around long enough to know that one positive result can generate the confidence to put together a string of results. "A lot of managers have been in similar positions to me, get one positive result and turn their season around," he said. "If we pick up on the result we got against Palace, get a bit of confidence and show a little more of what we can do in the last third, who knows what we can achieve. We could be sitting here at the weekend with people think we will be the team to end Arsenal's unbeaten record."

Few are likely to predict that scenario no matter what result City achieve against Paul Hart's side but with many of the leading sides choosing to field weakened teams, Keegan knows the tournament represents Manchester City's best chance of ending their 28-year trophy drought.

"There are the odd few supporters who seem to delight in taking part in phone-ins and talking absolute garbage about the club they are supposed to love," Keegan said. "But I believe most of the fans have been behind us all season. That is the reason I want to see out my two years and leave the club in the Premiership in a better position than when I found it."

With Arsenal, Chelsea, Newcastle and Manchester United among City's next seven Premiership opponents, victory tonight would give Keegan some added breathing space, so he may decide not to field the same number of fringe players he might have in previous seasons. Nicolas Anelka could stand down anyway to give Robbie Fowler another chance to prove his worth but otherwise it could be the same side that started at Selhurst Park.

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