George Boateng dedicated Aston Villa's Premiership win on Monday night to his manager, John Gregory, as the Midlanders kept themselves on course for a place in European next season.
The Dutch midfielder produced a man-of-the-match performance at The Valley in the 2-1 defeat of Charlton to secure two consecutive victories for Gregory's side since Manchester United ejected them from the FA Cup.
It was at that point that the beleaguered Gregory sat down with his players and challenged them to win 10 of their remaining 17 League games in a quest for one of the four Champions' League places. In response, Villa arrested a run of one win in 11 Premier League games against Derby County.
Their clinical first-half display in South-east London eased them to back-to-back victories and seventh place in the table, two points behind Chelsea. "It's good because the pressure's off a little bit," Boateng said. "We are happy with this win. We have performed quite well but we haven't got the right result for the manager. The press, the chairman and the fans have been unsatisfied. This is for John Gregory."
The strike pairing of Darius Vassell and the Colombian Juan Pablo Angel is shaping into a potent combination and each scored. For Angel, a haunted figure at the end of last season, it was further indication of his belated flowering. His 10 goals in 17 Premiership starts compares favourably with the best strikers in the country and Gregory is enthused by his relationship with Vassell. "He will take his chances if he is given opportunities," Gregory said.
Villa, who still have to face Chelsea twice and Leeds and Arsenal at home, now have a 10-day hiatus. Those sides are likely to provide a sterner test of the midlanders' claims to a European place. Yet Gregory was relieved to collect three points at The Valley.
"It is a hard place to come, because they've got a fantastic crowd," he said. "You can imagine that if there were another 20-30,000 in here they could rival St James' Park."
Those supporters heightened the noise levels 20 minutes into the contest when Jay Lloyd Samuel, a player who like West Ham's Jermain Defoe was plundered from the Charlton youth system, produced a two-footed lunge at Luke Young. Samuel clearly won the ball and the referee, Rob Styles, took no action. The Addicks full-back was forced off shortly afterwards, however.
The Charlton manager Alan Curbishley bemoaned his side's lack of urgency: "It was a great result for Villa and it sums up the season – a manager's under pressure but it's so tight that you win a couple on the spin and you are elevated up the League."Reuse content