Martin O'Neill has hailed as remarkable the career of Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who will become a Premier League record-breaker against Fulham at Villa Park tomorrow. The American will surpass David James's record of 166 consecutive top-flight appearances when he faces Roy Hodgson's side.
The 37-year-old clocked up the majority of those appearances during his very consistent eight years at Blackburn before making the switch to Villa during the summer. But Friedel has been in equally impressive form this season and played a significant part in Villa's progress in the Uefa Cup and into the top four of the league.
O'Neill said: "It is remarkable in this day and age, whether you are a keeper or not, to play that number of games consecutively. It is fantastic. Well done to him. During the last eight or nine years, from leaving Liverpool to the career he has had at Blackburn, Brad Friedel has been so consistent. Last year was maybe his best ever season and he wants to try and emulate that this year for us."
In typical fashion, Friedel tried to play down the significance of his achievement and was more concerned with Villa gaining three points at home to Fulham tomorrow, after winning at Arsenal and drawing with Manchester United. He said: "It was a decent team performance against United. We have had two of them back-to-back against two of the best sides in the world really.
"I know Arsenal are having their problems at the moment but we played very well against them and then, against United, I thought we were solid. As each day goes by, we are gelling more and more as a team. People mention the appearance record and, yes it is nice, but it is a team sport and I really don't focus on things like that. It is a nice achievement but, at the same time, I'm going to do nothing different now."
Friedel added: "It was important for us to respond after losing the Newcastle and Middlesbrough games in a row and we did that against Arsenal and United. But there are no easy games. Fulham drew at Liverpool last weekend and, since Roy Hodgson has gone in there, he has installed a footballing team and I am sure it won't be easy."
Curtis Davies admitted he was "confused" by his recent omission from the Villa side but is now determined to hold on to his place to bolster his chances of remaining part of the England squad. Central defender Davies was dropped from the starting line-up for a four-match spell by O'Neill.
But he impressed after his return in Villa's win at Arsenal and was rewarded with a call-up by Fabio Capello for last week's friendly international with Germany in Berlin. Davies was a non-playing substitute but it has given him the appetite to continue playing well for Villa in the hope of further recognition in the World Cup qualifiers.
The former West Brom player said: "It gave me a big lift to get back into the England squad because it wasn't expected. I wasn't in the Villa team two weeks ago – I'd only played the three games since coming back when I got the call [from Capello]. We won at Arsenal which was the massive game I guess because, with Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and Ashley Cole being injured, there were a few spaces for defenders in the England squad.
"That result must have made Mr Capello look up and think, 'they must have done well to keep a clean sheet at Arsenal'. If that is what got me in, so be it. I am just glad to be in the mind of the manager. If I can keep my form up, hopefully I will be involved come the qualifiers in March." Davies added: "When I was left out of the Villa team a couple of weeks ago it was difficult to take. In the Chelsea game, I wasn't at my best. But then we went into the Portsmouth game and kept a clean sheet against Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch, two England internationals.
"I thought 'at least we are back with a clean sheet' and then in the next game I was left out. I was more confused as to why but the manager will make his decisions and I have to stand by them. I managed to get back in for the Uefa Cup game away to Slavia Prague. I've been in the team since. Playing at the moment is good but I need to make sure I stay in the team."