Belfast Telegraph

Villa new boy Stephen Ireland boosts MacDonald

Kevin MacDonald welcomed the signing of Stephen Ireland last night as a “great boost” for Aston Villa, although the £8m makeweight in James Milner's £24m move to Manchester City will not be eligible for tonight's Europa League revenge mission against Rapid Vienna in the Austrian capital.

MacDonald, in temporary charge of Villa since Martin O'Neill's resignation a week last Monday, worked with Ireland during his stint as senior coach with the Republic of Ireland when Steve Staunton was manager.

“James and Stephen are different kinds of players,” MacDonald said. “James has strength and power all round the pitch whereas Stephen is a very gifted, inventive player, who probably links the play more.

“It's sad to see James go but it's a great boost that Stephen's coming in and will be registered in time for the second leg of this tie next Thursday night.”

Exactly a year ago, when MacDonald's principal concern was retaining the FA Premier Reserve League South title, O'Neill's side lost 1-0 away to Rapid.

With 14 minutes of the return fixture remaining they led 2-0 and appeared to be on their way through, only for Rangers target Nikica Jelavic to dump them out with an away goal.

MacDonald, with one of the smallest squads in the Premier League, plans to turn to his fringe players to keep key men fresh for the league trip to Newcastle.

In that respect he will follow the precedent — not always popular with Villa supporters — set by O'Neill. Most notoriously, the Ulsterman fielded a reserve team away to CSKA Moscow in the Uefa Cup of 2008-09 in the hope of sparing the senior players who were then chasing a Champions' League place.

Villa went out after a 2-0 defeat. Twelve months ago, O'Neill used a clutch of reserves at home to Rapid and again paid a price.

“It's a very big game,” he said. “Villa obviously have a big reputation in Europe, and this is a very important competition for squad players to get games and for trying to develop youngsters, so it's important to try to stay in it.”

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