McLeish still hamstrung by history at Villa

New faces are badly needed as fans suspicious of former Blues manager demand entertainment

If league tables do not lie, they can occasionally distort reality. As Aston Villa finished ninth in the Premier League last season and have not been out of the top half for the whole of the current campaign, despite selling two England forwards in the summer, the forthcoming half-term report might be expected to read "satisfactory". A new manager is, in his own words, "still looking to maintain a bit of stability in the club" and admits "it'll take time obviously to stamp my personality on the team."

Yet the natives appear to be not just restless but close to rebellion, and the provenance of that new managerhas something to do with it. In joining last June from Birmingham City, Alex McLeish had an extra handicap from the start, as did those who appointed him. George Graham and Terry Neill, Arsenal men who attempted to manage Tottenham, and more recently Steve Bruce, a Geordie at Sunderland, could have told him that while results in the end count for just about everything, prior association with hated rivals, let alone a direct switch, can only make life more difficult. Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles at Spurs may have been unsuccessful ultimately, but as with Bruce's successor Martin O'Neill, allegiance to the club can prolong the honeymoon period. McLeish's ended in a noisy demonstration by hundreds of supporters who occupied the club car park to protest at his mere arrival.

Sensibly McLeish agreed to meet a delegation of fans, one of whom, the fanzine editor Dave Woodhall, found him receptive and personable, but could still not understand the appointment: "When he was at Blues there was some grudging respect for the determination the team showed, and all the last minute equalisers and so on. But it's a different game at Villa."

There's the rub. Rather like Tottenham in the days when "one-nil to the Arsenal" was a proud Highbury mantra, Villa have always wanted to do things with a greater style than their neighbours. If anything, complaints about negative, defensive football now outnumber the objections to having a "Bluenose" in charge. So much so that in a poll on a fans' website, Vital Villa, an astonishing 96 per cent want McLeish out. Its editor Jonathan Fear says: "A lot of us were prepared to give him a chance but the football is so negative that we're bored stiff. Apart from Norwich, the only teams we've beaten are the three at the bottom. We know we can't win the League, it's not 1981 any more, it's more to do with a total lack of entertainment."

Others will wait for the January transfer window, not least to see how supportive the American owner Randy Lerner is of his manager. Under O'Neill, a regular sixth place came at a cost: wages had reached 88 per cent of turnover, a loss of £37.6m was declared for the year he left, and in both 2008 and 2009 only Manchester City had a higher net spend on transfers. Last summer was very different. Having invested heavily in Darren Bent in January, Lerner saw a chance to claw some money back, and by selling Ashley Young and Stewart Downing Villa made a greater profit on their dealings (£20.5m) than any other club.

The repercussions were not unexpected. A fortnight ago Young returned with Manchester United, who comfortably beat a Villa side failing to score for the third successive game. Young academy products like Chris Herd and Barry Bannon are being given an opportunity but this afternoon Downing has an opportunity to inflict further punishment with Liverpool. "Some day I would like to think we will be in a position where we can keep our best players but it is going to take time," McLeish said. More time, perhaps, than he is likely to be given.

Aston Villa v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 2.05pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders