Alex McLeish 'fights on' after Aston Villa fans' patience snaps

Shambolic defeat at home to Bolton leaves hapless Scot staring at third relegation in four seasons

Aston Villa's last away fixture saw them face Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Next season it may be Peterborough United and Darren Ferguson.

Villa are this season's "too-good-to-go-down" team in the Premier League, a side no one tipped for relegation yet who are now drifting up the proverbial without a paddle. Dropping into the second tier for the first time since 1987 could be disastrous for a club who justifiably regard themselves as the biggest in the Midlands. Their better players would be likely to leave, revenue would almost certainly plummet and there is no guarantee of the instant return secured by Graham Taylor a quarter of a century ago.

The past 13 games have delivered a solitary victory for Villa as Wigan and Queen's Park Rangers have crept ever closer to them; they are missing seven players through injury and illness; and Alex McLeish, the manager few fans wanted because of his Birmingham connection and perceived cautious approach, trudged to the tunnel after Tuesday's 2-1 home defeat to Bolton with a torrent of abuse ringing in his ears.

Whereas his fellow Scot, Steve Kean, has endured such vilification all season at Blackburn, Villa's crowd had resisted openly venting antipathy towards McLeish, apparently willing to suppress their misgivings as long as the team kept a respectable distance between themselves and the bottom three. All that changed in the space of barely 50 seconds, the time it took Bolton to shrug off Stephen Warnock's 61st-minute goal and respond instantly by scoring twice.

Villa have never won fewer than six home matches in a season but the result left them with a wretched total of four from 18 matches and only Tottenham left to visit B6. "The ruthlessness, professionalism and clinical finishing just weren't there," admitted McLeish. Afterwards, the former Scotland manager was spotted deep in conversation with the club's American chairman-owner, Randy Lerner, and chief executive, Paul Faulkner. Few in his profession, if any, fall on their swords and he duly emerged, defiant if perhaps a little shaken, to assure the media he and the team would "keep fighting".

It may have seemed propitious for Villa's largely youthful side to be playing away on Saturday, far from the expectations of the Holte End. However, the trip to West Bromwich Albion, three and a half miles up the road, looks certain to be a bumpy ride. Mid-table Albion will be the West Midlands' only Premier League representatives if Villa join Wolves in the drop and Birmingham do not win the Championship play-offs. Their followers, moreover, will revel in Villa's plight, eager for a first double over them since 1973-74.

McLeish, facing a possible third relegation in his last four top-flight campaigns, hopes to have a seasoned campaigner, central defender Richard Dunne, back at The Hawthorns. Two more, James Collins and Stephen Ireland, should be fit to resume against Spurs and in the last match, at Norwich. Unhappily for Villa, given their paltry 36 goals in 35 games, he has no proven marksman to bring back, Darren Bent's ankle injury ensuring he will not play again this season.

Maybe no one should have been surprised by their failure to convert first-half chances against Bolton; the top scorers in the starting XI were a trio on two goals apiece. What was ominous, for a manager often branded "defensive", was the omnishambles, to borrow a phrase from politics, into which Villa's rearguard descended in the immediate aftermath of Warnock's goal.

Villa's problems, it is now clear, go deeper than being without experienced personnel. Even when McLeish had a near full-strength squad in the autumn they still failed to accrue sufficient points to offset the damage caused by the kind of run they are currently suffering.

Warnock manfully sought to deflect the criticism of McLeish on to the players. "It's our mistakes which have cost us, not the manager. He doesn't go to clear the ball and make a foul. That's our own individual errors and we need to learn from them," the midfielder said. "Now we need to go to West Brom with the belief that we can win. It's a must-win game, simple as that. Personally I feel we're not far off battering a team."

Villa's awful spring

Bottom six:

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Aston Villa 35/7/15/13/36/50/36

QPR 35/9/7/19/39/57/34

Wigan 35/8/10/17/34/60/34

Bolton 34/10/3/21/39/67/33

Blackburn 35/8/7/20/47/73/31

Wolves (R) 35/5/8/22/34/75/23

Remaining games Saturday West Bromwich Albion (a); 6 May Tottenham (h); 13 May Norwich (a)

Villa's recent run

1 Feb QPR (h); Drew 2-2

5 Feb Newcastle (a); Lost 2-1

12 Feb Man City (h); Lost 1-0

25 Feb Wigan (a); Drew 0-0

3 Mar Blackburn (a); Drew 1-1

10 Mar Fulham (h); Won 1-0

24 Mar Arsenal (a); Lost 3-0

31 Mar Chelsea (h); Lost 4-2

7 Apr Liverpool (a); Drew 1-1

9 Apr Stoke (h); Drew 1-1

15 Apr Man United (a); Lost 4-0

21 Apr Sunderland (h); Drew 0-0

24 Apr Bolton (h); Lost 2-1

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?