McAllister: We want to win for unwell Houllier

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The Independent Online

Gary McAllister, Aston Villa's stop-gap manager, remains confident Gérard Houllier will be able to resume his coaching duties at the Midlands club despite the Scot admitting he feared the worst upon learning of the Frenchman's latest health scare.

Houllier, 63, is awaiting the verdict of medical experts after undergoing further tests at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, having admitted himself on Wednesday night complaining of chest pains.

McAllister, who is in charge for today's match against Stoke City and, in all likelihood, Villa's four remaining games, played under the Frenchman at Liverpool when the manager required life-saving emergency heart surgery after falling ill during a match against Leeds in October 2001.

The scare has led to inevitable questions over whether he can continue in management following this fresh setback, however McAllister is optimistic the Frenchman still has a future in the dug-out.

"I think he will be back, most definitely, knowing the guy," said McAllister. "Once you get to know him a bit better you'll know the type of person he is.

"We're two days away from it happening and I've had three teams texted to my phone! He's organised training for the last two days so his mind is on the job.

"He is like Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Roy Hodgson – these guys are madly, deeply in love with the game and they cannot go without it. It's simple. They're living through the game."

McAllister, though, concedes it is the medical experts who ultimately hold the answers as to when, or if, Houllier returns. "I think this time it is definitely going to be dictated by the doctors," he added. "It cannot be the gaffer's or Villa's decision. He would be foolish to not listen to these people."

And although the Frenchman, who is under strict orders to rest up, can't be at Villa Park this afternoon, McAllister fully expects him to be keeping in touch with events via the radio.

He said: "I think he'll be listening to the game. It's very state of the art at the hospital but I don't know if there is scope for a game to be fed in live!"

The 46-year-old visited Houllier in hospital along with chief executive Paul Faulkner on Thursday and was pleasantly surprised by his condition, having conceded he was deeply alarmed by news of Houllier's illness less than 24 hours earlier which brought painful memories from a decade ago flooding back.

"When I went to see him I was very surprised at the way he looked," he added. "For someone who had had such a traumatic night he was looking relaxed, a bit of colour in his cheeks, he did not look bad.

"But when I first got the phone call from Doc Waller on Wednesday night, I was thinking the worst. I was there in the dressing room when things happened before and I know what happened when he left Anfield that day. At least this time there is no surgery required."

McAllister also expects the week's events to have a galvanising effect on the squad as he prepares for his first game as a No 1 since an unsuccessful stint at Leeds in 2008.

"I think it can pull people together," he added. "Certainly at Liverpool there was a pulling together of players wanting to win for the manager and I'm sure that will be the case here.

"The facts are the manager is not here and I'm his assistant so I'll jump in and take the responsibility. The thing that makes it easier is we're on a decent little run and it's a good place to be. Confidence is high.

"Three or four games ago we were looking at and talking about safety, but now I think the target is catching [eighth-placed] Bolton."

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