Belfast Telegraph

McLeish determined to win over fans

Manager Alex McLeish has revealed his determination to win over the Aston Villa fans who still doubt whether he is the right man for the job.

McLeish admits it has been a "rollercoaster six months" since replacing Gerard Houllier at the helm during the summer. His move from local rivals Birmingham angered some sections of Villa supporters. Villa have had an up-and-down campaign and been hovering around the mid-table mark in what is a period of transition after the successful Martin O'Neill era.

But McLeish is still enthusiastic about the challenges ahead even with little money available for new signings. The Scot, whose side visit Stoke on Boxing Day, said: "I said at the time I took over that I've got to try and prove I'm the right man for this job."

He added: "I'm still determined to do that and win over the Villa fans who have still got their doubts. It has been a rollercoaster six months but I've thoroughly enjoyed it. The first couple of weeks were difficult with a bit of wrangling here and there. But with the help of all the staff at Villa Park, it's been easy to settle in."

When asked to assess the first half of the campaign, McLeish said: "I think it's been steady. I've been disappointed we haven't got any points on the board against the elite clubs.

"But there is a real transition going on when you consider the team Martin O'Neill built. There are maybe five or six of those players gone. When you include John Carew, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, James Milner and Gareth Barry, they are some marvellous players who have left the club.

"When I looked at the dressing room on Wednesday night after the Arsenal game and complimented the players on their performance, there were about seven or eight kids in that room. They have bright eyes and are having to pinch themselves they are in the dressing room with experienced people like Richard Dunne and people like that.

"That is where we are at the moment. We have a lot of young players, we look to encourage them as much as possible to make the grade in football. But they also have to make the grade at Villa where the expectation levels are massive. The kids have a fantastic opportunity and a great challenge ahead of them."

One area McLeish is working overtime to correct matters is his side's inability to defend set pieces. It proved costly again when Yossi Benayoun scored a late winner for Arsenal in their 2-1 win from a Robin van Persie corner.

McLeish said: "The winner was just a wee lapse in concentration and that is why set pieces are vital and you can't switch off for a second. The problems with set pieces is it's not just defenders. You bring forwards back to defend and it is not their favourite task and sometimes they switch off. It's something we are working hard on."


From Belfast Telegraph