We want to delay United's title victory, says McLeish

 

The Aston Villa manager, Alex McLeish, is ready to spoil any potential Manchester United title party planned by his mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson, for Sunday.

United are eight points clear at the top of the Premier League and could seal the title against Villa if results go their way before the match at Old Trafford. McLeish, who played for Ferguson at Aberdeen, relishes the challenge of stopping them, even though his young Villa side are without seven senior players through injuries and illness.

He said: "Can I spoil the United party? I have done it before with Motherwell when we played Rangers. They had the carnival ready to go. Motherwell won 2-0 with two goals from Owen Coyle."

McLeish knows it is unrealistic to expect complacency from United, saying: "I know Sir Alex would never allow that to happen. We know we would face a rampant United side but you never know what can happen."

Villa are seven points clear of the bottom three after Monday's 1-1 home draw with Stoke but McLeish will not relax or allow the crop of youngsters he is blooding to drop their standards.

He said: "I am not going to rest. I'm not going to go and think, 'That's fine, there's daylight here.' We have to keep them on their toes and at a good level. There were seven academy guys out there against Stoke. They gave everything and have a fantastic attitude. They are trying to make their names at Aston Villa and show they can play at the club for as long as possible. We are obviously trying to get a position where we can look towards next season. We have the games to do it and the points to do it.

"There's no shortage of effort. We've gained some ground and it followed on from a good point at Liverpool but it is still a cup final every week."

While McLeish is taking heart from the performance of his young players, he was also quick to praise the contribution of the experienced Walescentre-back James Collins. The defender has stepped up to his best form in the absence of Richard Dunne and Carlos Cuellar, who are both injured.

McLeish said: "Big James has been very strong and has read things well. His heading has been dominant and his consistency has been really excellent. He has thrived on the extra responsibility."

Villa are awaiting updates on the condition of Chris Herd and Stephen Warnock, after both men were substituted against Stoke.

McLeish said: "Herdy went to hospital for a check-up after the game. He had a head knock. Warnock went over his ankle, landed badly and he will have a scan and X-rays."

Jermaine Pennant has said, meanwhile, that the Stoke players will "not be on their holidays" for the rest of the season, and will instead aim to secure the club's first top-10 finish.

Stoke have effectively secured a fifth successive year of top-flight football after taking four points from their two Easter games. But Pennant was adamant that they still have plenty to play for and should be targeting the likes of Newcastle in terms of what they can achieve in the years to come.

Pennant, who set up Robert Huth's equaliser at Villa Park, said: "We are not on our holidays even though we are safe. The manager [Tony Pulis] wants us to finish 10th or higher because of all the hard work we've put in. We haven't done it before in the Premier League. We are going to keep going until the final game of the season. The gaffer wants top 10. We have broken a lot of records for Stoke and he said to the lads, 'You deserve a top-10 finish.'

"There is no reason why we can't aim for what someone like Newcastle have done. We've got some great players in our squad, players who can come off the bench and change a game. There is no reason why we can't push on. We have to tighten our away record and then we will definitely be a top-10 team in the Premier League."

Stoke played their 51st game of the season at Villa Park, after a Europa League schedule which began in July.

Pennant said: "A lot of players are feeling tired but we are going to have a couple of days off now. We've got a free weekend, and then we've got a massive game against Newcastle."

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