Beleaguered Houllier receives Villa backing

Aston Villa 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
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The Independent Football

Gerard Houllier must surely reflect on his decision to select an under-strength team for the FA Cup meeting with Manchester City with regret, because not a single thing has gone right for him since. The Aston Villa manager entered the month having finally appeared to have won over the doubters lingering around the Midlands club since his autumn arrival, yet he now finds himself back at square one.

Controversy has invariably been followed by controversy since what some have labelled his "Moscow moment" – a reference to a similar move made by predecessor Martin O'Neill for a Uefa Cup game in Russia two years ago – at Eastlands on 2 March.

Last week his two best centre-backs, Richard Dunne and James Collins, were fined a combined £200,000 for their bust up with Houllier's backroom staff during a team-building trip. Even before Matt Jarvis' exquisite 38th-minute winner here, an anti-Houllier banner was unfurled at the Holte End, and after it came calls from the disenchanted locals for his dismissal.

Although they are in 14th position in the table, a solitary point stands between them and Mick McCarthy's side, who find themselves in the bottom three by virtue of goal difference – the same as Villa's, as it turns out.

However, Houllier can breathe easy – for now at least. A senior source from the Villa Park boardroom declared: "Saturday was a bitterly disappointing day. But nothing's changed. We remain committed to the same long-term strategy. It's important we show unity from the boardroom to the management, from the terraces to the players."

There was a nervousness about Villa, something they will have to deal with during the international break because, with each game, the stakes are only going to get higher.

A lack of experience in defence did not help: left-back Nathan Baker, 19, was replaced after 33 minutes by Fabian Delph, the 21-year-old midfielder, while another, Chris Herd, was making his full Premier League debut as a centre-back.

Dunne and Collins, both injured, are sorely missed. "They're two centre-halves that I used to hate playing against because they are that good," said striker Darren Bent, who should have won a penalty after being fouled by Richard Stearman in the box.

While Villa have won only one league game in six, Wolves have lost just one. Midfielder Jamie O'Hara said: "We are building a side here and I believe we have a good chance of staying up."

Scorer: Wolves Jarvis 38

Subs: Aston Villa Delph 5 (Baker, 33), Agbon-lahor 5 (Reo-Coker, 61), Pires 5 (Albrighton, 61)

Wolves Ebanks-Blake 6 (Hammill, 66), Ward (Jarvis, 80).

Booked: Aston Villa A Young Wolves Stearman, Elokobi, Foley

Man of match Jarvis Match rating 6

Possession Aston Villa 51% Wolves 49%

Attempts on target Aston Villa 5 Wolves 5

Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire) Att 38,965



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