JOHN GREGORY is the new manager of Aston Villa, who wasted no time in filling the job vacated by Brian Little on Tuesday afternoon. Little barely had time to offer some explanation of his departure at his own press conference yesterday afternoon before Gregory moved into his old office.
It was an environment Gregory was not unfamiliar with, having only a year ago resigned from Little's back-room staff and dropped to the Second Division to take over as manager of Wycombe Wanderers.
Perhaps the increasing doubts over Little's future, which he admitted had played a part in his decision to go, had prompted Villa to give some thought to a successor. Certainly the move for Gregory was quick, as the new manager explained on ClubCall. "I knew at 6 pm yesterday that I had the chance to do the job. We concluded things at about 3 pm today," he said.
His appointment came as a surprise, particularly to the local evening paper, which yesterday offered readers the chance to nominate their choice from a list of a dozen possible new managers. Gregory was not on it.
The man himself said his new status had taken a while to sink in. Gregory said: "This has been a traumatic time for the club. The team had an awful start to the season and it has escalated. One defeat sent alarm-bells ringing."
He said the most important thing was to pick up three points from the match at Liverpool on Saturday. Delighted with the opportunity to be involved in the Uefa Cup quarter-final against Atletico Madrid, he acknowledged that his prime task of keeping Villa in the Premiership would be hard work. "I know it is a tough job but I think 42 or 43 points might be enough for safety.
"Certainly a few days ago, when I was at Wycombe, I wasn't thinking about this job. I think this job has come at the right time. It is also the right time for me to come back to Villa Park. I am going to grasp the opportunity with both hands. It is a huge club and I have been part of it in recent times."
Little's recent times at Villa Park have been filled with intrigue, from what he told the press at Villa's Bodymoor Heath training ground yesterday after saying goodbye to the players. He claimed that there were "certain things going on behind the scenes which were affecting my managerial position".
He refused to elaborate, but even Gregory felt obliged to distance himself from any involvement in Little's departure, saying: "There has been a bit of muck-throwing in the last week or so - not of my doing."
Little hoped that his decision to leave after three and a half years would ease the growing pressure on the team. Explaining that his resignation after a meeting with the chairman, Doug Ellis, had resulted from "deep and careful consideration" of his position, he said: "I feel my decision was reached for the best interests of Aston Villa, especially in the short term. Over the past few weeks there has been growing speculation about my position at the football club and I genuinely felt that was affecting the performance of the players.
"There were certain things going on behind the scenes which were affecting my managerial position. As a result my decision to resign was not taken lightly - and most definitely not on the spur of the moment. I sincerely hope that my resignation will help ease the pressure the team may have been under."
His assistant manager, Allan Evans, who was on his way back from Madrid yesterday after watching Atletico, said: " "When I got back I immediately phoned Brian and spent three hours with him. It wasn't a case of me trying to persuade him to change his mind because he is his own man. Things had gone too far down the line."
Ellis, and Villa's fans, will hope the same is not the case for the team and its slide towards the relegation zone.
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