Houllier Hassle Continues
Aston Villa’s increasingly direct involvement in the EPL’s relegation battle continues to be played out to a background of disaffection with French supremo Gerard Houllier, from both fans and, reportedly, players.
Villa missed the opportunity to gain three vital and welcome EPL points when they let a 2-1 lead slip at Everton’s Goodison Park last Saturday.
And they go into Sunday afternoon’s Villa Park clash with Newcastle United two places and two points above the drop zone; victory at Everton would have taken the midlands outfit into 13th place, so tight are things at the wrong end of the EPL table.
Two goals from big-money striker Darren Bent saw Villa come from a goal down against Everton before a harsh late penalty award denied them victory. Houllier said afterwards:
“Had we not had the penalty incident, we would have won it. I was very proud of my players. I think today a win would have rewarded our efforts, I thought the second half could be the turning point for our season.”
His optimism isn’t universally shared by Villains, with fan protests continuing after banners calling for the 63-year-old’s departure were displayed at the home defeat to fellow-strugglers Wolves last month.
And prior to the Everton game, reports emerged of dressing-room unrest at new rules supposedly introduced by Houllier governing players’ off-field behaviour and discipline – the most news(paper) worthy being an alleged ban on the use of mobile phones within the Villa Park building.
Assistant manager Gary McAllister denied that Houllier, his former boss at Liverpool. McAllister said: “Most clubs have a rule book which is set by the PFA (the players’ union) and apart from little tweaks here and there (ours) is a standard rule book.
He added: “Mobiles aren’t switched on inside the building and Gerard had that rule when I was at Liverpool.”
And Villa keeper Brad Friedel described press talk of a player mutiny at Villa as “rubbish,” adding that the players were “fully behind” Houllier and that the rule book story was “a non-existent issue” at the club.
Friedel is currently in talks with the club over extending his contract, which runs out after the end of the season. The 39-year-old’s agent Tony McGill stressed that the player is “very happy at Villa.”
Villa host Newcastle hoping to avenge their 6-0 thrashing at St James’s Park in the second EPL game of the season, last August.
Tags: Aston Villa, Gerard Houllier, Villa Park, Darren Bent, Brad Friedel