O'Leary in hurry to bridge quality gap


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The Independent Football

O'Leary, summoned to Soho Square last season for declaring an interest in buying James Beattie, cited the dressing down he received as his reason for saying coyly that he hoped to sign "a player from the North". The Villa manager, who may have to pay Liverpool £6.5m for Baros, feels he can keep things "nice and solid" with his current squad, yet warned that he needed more "quality players" to improve the side.

Allardyce fell foul of the FA last year for condemning Riley's refereeing of Bolton's League Cup final defeat by Middlesbrough. At Villa Park, having seen a late header by Kevin Nolan wrongly disallowed for offside, he restricted himself to "constructive criticism" of the linesman for being "three yards behind play" and of Fifa, the game's world governing body, for "over-complicating" the officials' decision-making process.

No such caution inhibited the teams, at least during the pulsating and frankly bizarre 300-second spell at the start into which the scoring was squeezed.

Both held the lead, Kevin Phillips and the impressive Steven Davis book-ending efforts by Kevin Davies and Ivan Campo. In keeping with the stereotypes, it was conspicuous that Villa's goals stemmed from swift, sweeping moves, whereas Bolton's exploited set pieces.

Confessing that he had spent much of last week working on how to counter corners and long throws, O'Leary bemoaned the failure to heed his strictures. "It suited Bolton to play it scrappy," he added. "The players we have need to get the ball down and play more football. I don't want to name players because it's the first game, but we had people out there that we expected to play better."

One was probably Juan Pablo Angel, who rarely looked sufficiently involved to set about improving on last season's seven-goal Premiership tally. Baros would fill the gap left by Darius Vassell, who was allowed to leave with no replacement ready, though whether the Czech would prosper alongside Phillips remains to be seen. Phillips was never more effective than when feeding off the towering Niall Quinn.

Ideally, O'Leary would also bring in a centre-back - he has long coveted Manchester City's Sylvain Distin - and Villa's disarray at dead-ball situations showed why. Bolton, seldom as one-dimensional as the Irishman portrayed them, were superior in the second half. They had two plausible penalty appeals rejected, were refused a well-worked "goal" and ran into Thomas Sorensen on peak form. Allardyce, however, said his players should recognise that "it wasn't just the ref's assistant that cost us the win - it was our failure to take three very good chances".

Bolton hope to add a 14th nationality to his squad today with the capture of the Japan midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata from Fiorentina on a year's loan, but they also have to consider Manchester City's offer for Stelios Giannakopoulos. City were seeking to "upset" the Greek by going public on the opening day, Allardyce alleged, reassuring evidence that he will still indulge his penchant for plain speaking when appropriate.

O'Leary pondered a possible "mad rush" before the transfer deadline, but noted pragmatically, as befits one whose purse strings are controlled by Doug Ellis, that "if you don't get them, you go with what you've got".

Allardyce covets no fewer than five recruits. And if he gets them? "I'll prod the chairman and say: 'We need one more'."

For all the barbs about Bolton's style, or lack of it, the latter words might have been their motto on Saturday.

Goals: Phillips (4) 1-0; Davies (6) 1-1; Campo (8) 1-2; Davis (9) 2-2.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Mellberg, Laursen, Samuel; Solano, Davis, McCann, Barry; Angel, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Hendrie, Djemba-Djemba, Ridgewell, Moore.

Bolton Wanderers (4-5-1): Jasskelainen; Hunt, Ben Haim, Jaidi, Gardner; Diouf, Nolan, Campo (Okocha, 54), Speed, Pedersen; Davies. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Stelios, Vaz Te, Faye.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Bolton Diouf, Ben Haim.

Man of the match: Davis.

Attendance: 33,263.