Down and you're out: McLeish has three basement battles to save his job at Villa
22:02 GMT, 25 April 2012
Alex McLeish has been given three games to save his job as Aston Villa manager after the club slid to the brink of the relegation zone.
The club backed McLeish by issuing a public statement following unprecedented scenes on Tuesday night. But the backing was not unequivocal in what amounted to a decided shift in Villa’s position.
Villa fans were united in their condemnation of the former Rangers manager during the 2-1 defeat by Bolton as the 1982 European champions slumped to within three points of the drop zone.
On the brink: McLeish is facing the sack
Boos and chants rained down from all four stands as fans mounted a public show of opposition to the manager.
THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE
1 win at Villa Park since November
3 times they’ve scored more than two goals in a Premier League match this season
1 player with more than five Premier League goals this season, and that’s injured striker Darren Bent
A joint statement from owner Randy Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner read: ‘We very openly acknowledge the frustrations of Villa fans and share in them completely.
‘Our horizon is the next three games. We continue to be in control of our own destiny. We will continue to support and rely on our manager and the squad but we are conscious, as is everyone at the club, that this is a very trying time for those who love Aston Villa.
‘We hope Villa fans will continue to show their great support.’
McLeish met Lerner and Faulkner immediately after Tuesday’s game, and their dissatisfaction with the evening’s events was discussed.
The manager said in the post-match press conference that the owner and chief executive retained their confidence in him.
Downward spiral: Villa keeper Shay Given reacts to their latest defeat
But the prospect of relegation is real and the statistics make damning reading.
Villa have gleaned just 13 points from the last 16 matches, averaging a shade more than one goal per game. They have found the net just seven times in their last 10 outings and only relegated Wolves have worse current form.
Lerner is worried by the prospect of relegation in light of a 54million loss in the latest accounts. He was so concerned last season that he allowed Gerard Houllier to smash the club’s transfer record in bringing 24m striker Darren Bent to the club.
Contrasting emotions: Bolon's Kevin Davies celebrates victory after the final whistle as Aston Villa players stand dejected
Having seen his relationship with previous boss Martin O’Neill disintegrate to such an extent that an industrial tribunal resolved their differences, the American chose what he considered the more affable McLeish as the Northern Irishman’s successor, despite having to hand over 2m in compensation to rivals Birmingham.
However, McLeish’s record since arriving from Scotland has been hit and miss. Two relegations from the top flight in three seasons with Birmingham were offset by promotion and a Carling Cup win.
‘Just imagine what he could do with a chairman who supports him,’ cooed Villa non-executive director Charles Krulak.
Not living up to the price tag: Charles N' Zogbia is one of McLeish's signings that has not paid off
But McLeish’s signings have fallen short. Only Shay Given has come up to scratch as Brad Friedel’s replacement, but Alan Hutton and Charles N’Zogbia have disappointed and Robbie Keane’s star flickered only briefly.
Even those Villa fans who were prepared to give McLeish a chance following his move from the blue half of the city have been proved right in their original objections. A dreadful run with injuries has not helped but the manager’s failure to play an attractive style of football has only reinforced the prejudices against him.
He maintains he does not set up his sides to play negatively but the statistics say otherwise.
If Villa do scrape over the line, McLeish’s position is likely to be reviewed anyway.
Stewards waded into the Holte End on Tuesday to try to retrieve a banner which read: ‘Get the ’Eck out of here.’
That served to increase the volume of the disaffection. If fans start to vote with their feet, even a reasonable end to the campaign might not save McLeish.