Aston Villa have an FA Cup semi-final looming at Wembley in 12 days’ time but for Tim Sherwood, the most important game of their season takes place tonight when Queen’s Park Rangers visit for a fixture crucial to both sides’ Premier League survival prospects.
Sherwood yesterday spelt out the importance of a match that pits him against Chris Ramsey, his long-time coaching colleague at Tottenham Hotspur and now manager of Rangers, when describing it as “the biggest” of his managerial career.
Villa will drop below QPR – currently three points worse off – into the relegation zone if they lose, which would be the last scenario Sherwood would want going into Saturday’s return to White Hart Lane. A victory, by contrast, would lift the Birmingham side two places to 15th and open up a five-point cushion on the bottom three.
“This is without doubt the biggest game of the season for Villa and possibly one of the biggest in a number of years,” said Sherwood, who also suggested some of his players needed to “man up”.
“If you look through QPR’s squad they have a lot of players who are men with a lot of experience in there,” he said. “I think we have a few men in there but we have a lot of players who are pretty much icing-on-the-cake players. I am trying to get that mentality into them to start digging out results, which is not what we’re cut out to do.”
Clint Hill v Carles Gil might be one way of illustrating this comparison, not least given the way Sherwood has largely sidelined the creative Spaniard signed by Paul Lambert, his predecessor, in January. QPR’s grizzled old pros – notably Bobby Zamora and Joey Barton – helped them earn a morale-boosting 4-1 win at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday but Sherwood is hopeful his players will respond with the kind of performance they managed in last month’s high-stakes matches against both Albion – in the Premier League and Cup – and Sunderland. “We need to do that again tomorrow,” he said. “That is why it is not always the right idea to shield players from the pressure. They have to realise that this is huge for us.”
In truth, Sherwood has had an up-and-down time since replacing Lambert: back-to-back defeats against Swansea City and Manchester United mean he has lost four out of six league fixtures so far. “Tim Sherwood never came in here with a magic wand,” said the 46-year-old of himself. In mitigation, injuries have not helped with Alan Hutton, Scott Sinclair and Ashley Westwood all absent tonight, though Ramsey had his own bad news yesterday, as Eduardo Vargas was ruled out for the rest of the campaign with a medial knee ligament injury.
What gives the contest extra intrigue is the close relationship between the two managers. Although Sherwood joked that he had been ignoring Ramsey’s calls – “I keep red-buttoning him!” – he went on to praise the coaching skills he saw at first hand in Tottenham’s academy and later first team during his time as manager last season. He even hinted at a reunion at Villa should his friend’s circumstances at Loftus Road change. “I would have to speak to the club about whether we could find a role for him here,” said Sherwood. “I know I am biased but he is up there with the very best coaches I have ever seen. He is not stereotypical – he is a good man-manager and can coach individuals. He is a street kid. He knows how to talk to them. He has written a lot of the FA’s coaching modules – that is how good they think he is.
“He’s had a lot of his years developing younger players,” he added, “and now he has got a taste of being a manager and is really enjoying it, especially when you get results like on Saturday and [against] Sunderland away. You are talking about a team who hadn’t won away from home all season.” Generous words, but Sherwood cannot afford a repeat tonight.Reuse content