Outside the Box: Villa could be undermined by 'four and then no more' ruling

  • @stevetongue

Confirmation comes from Uefa of a scenario to fill supporters of Aston Villa with dread: how Martin O'Neill and his team could finish fourth in the Premier League and still not even make the Champions' League qualifying round. That would happen if, say, Arsenal or Liverpool were to win the Champions' League but end up fifth in the table – just as Liverpool did in 2005. On that occasion they were eventually allowed into the following season's competition as well as the teams above them, including fourth-placed Everton. Now, however, in that situation the team finishing fourth would drop down to the newly named Europa League, an even more overblown version of the Uefa Cup, in which Villa last week felt compelled to field a reserve team. This is all part of the supposed democratisation policy of Uefa's president, Michel Platini. Or, as a Uefa spokesman poetically put it: "It's four and then no more."

O'Connor's extra training

Crewe's Northern Ireland midfielder Michael O'Connor chose the wrong away trip to upset his manager Gudjon Thordarsson, who apparently told him after he had an altercation with a team-mate to disembark from the coach and make his own way home before the match. Had the Alex been playing at Stockport or Tranmere, it would have been a relatively straightforward matter; unfortunately the game was at Brighton. Just as well that Virgin have finally sorted out their Saturday train services, though as one local wag put it, a true Railwayman should have had no problem finding his way home. O'Connor has now been shunted off to Lincoln on loan. Brian Clough did these things differently, as he did most things. Putting Garry Birtles off Nottingham Forest's bus on the way to the airport once, after the striker repeatedly moaned that he was unfit to travel to Kuwait, Cloughy insisted on stopping the first passing car and obtaining a lift for him.

Not-so-sweet nothings

A suspicion that there has been an unusually high number of goalless draws in the Premier League this season is, alas, borne out by closer statistical analysis. The recent rash of them involving Wigan and Arsenil (sic) has pushed the number so far to 32, already six more than for the whole of last season. In marked contrast to previous campaigns, it is now a more prevalent scoreline than 1-1 and is almost as frequent as 2-0. Most observers would correctly identify Fulham as having taken part in most: seven, six of which have been away from home. But let's hear it for good old Manchester City, so prolific at both ends of the pitch that they have not recorded a single one. The most notable feature of the individual figures is how often Manchester United's so-called rivals have lost ground by failing to break down opponents in home games and suffered a 0-0: Aston Villa no fewer than five times, Liverpool and Arsenal three each and Chelsea two.

Fine work for fiery Cole

Ashley Cole's £80 fine for drunkenly ranting at the police was a not-insubstantial penalty for the average man on the street, but hardly for a Premier League footballer and England international. On a weekly wage of £80,000 for perhaps 25 hours' work, it would have taken him precisely 90 seconds to pay it off – just about one run down the wing.