Gray calls for fans to back players

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The Independent Online

The Aston Villa caretaker manager Stuart Gray is urging fans to give their full support to his players during tonight's home Premiership meeting with Everton.

Villa shareholders and supporters' groups are joining forces before the game to stage a march outside the ground calling for chairman Doug Ellis and the board of directors to resign.

But Gray wants the protests to stop at kick-off as Villa look to start the post-John Gregory era and reignite their hopes of securing a European spot.

The first-team coach Gray, in temporary joint command with the assistant manager John Deehan, said: "We need the fans more than ever now.

"The fans were probably all as stunned as we were by the news [of Gregory's resignation]. But all I ask is, that whatever they feel about the situation, they turn up in their numbers and get fully behind the team for 90 minutes.

"Whether they are for the club or against, it will do us no good at all if the players don't get their full backing."

Meanwhile, Paul Gascoigne and his Everton team-mates believe the Merseysiders can take advantage of the turmoil at Villa in the wake of Gregory's shock departure.

Everton will be aiming to extend their four-match unbeaten run when they travel to Villa Park and Gascoigne voiced the hopes of the Goodison Park club, fresh from an FA Cup win over Leyton Orient in which the former England playmaker was in stunning form.

"The Cup games have helped our league form," he said. "We started out with a tough game at Stoke recently and won that. Then we beat Sunderland and battled really hard to get a point at Spurs. The Orient win followed, and we are full of confidence. The Cup form has really helped us in the Premiership.

"Now we go to Aston Villa, where John Gregory has just left. Maybe that will upset their camp a little bit, which could help us."

Steve Simonsen, who has played well in his 15-match run in the side, the longest spell he has ever had as first choice at the club, added: "With John Gregory leaving, it could well rock the boat a bit for them. We would want to take advantage of that.

"I saw them on the TV against Charlton a week ago, and they were brilliant. But if there was a good time to play them it is now.

"The atmosphere is good here now. We are through to the Cup's fifth round and we've had a couple of good league results – so the aim is to take advantage of the situation and build on our recent good run. I hope it's the sign of things to come, and we are on the up."

Gascoigne's display in the Cup last Saturday has further improved Everton's confidence. The midfielder's creative ability helped Kevin Campbell and Duncan Ferguson break goal droughts which had stretched back to September.

The Everton manager Walter Smith will be missing Swedish winger Niclas Alexandersson, who has a muscle strain, while Abel Xavier is on his way to Liverpool and Thomas Gravesen is still not involved.

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