Alex McLeish keeps his head down as Aston Villa show heart

Under-fire McLeish keeps his head down as Dunne inspires Villa rearguard

PUBLISHED:

22:21 GMT, 28 April 2012

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UPDATED:

22:21 GMT, 28 April 2012

Alex McLeish hailed the performance of
fit-again Aston Villa captain Richard Dunne as his side earned a
valuable point in their battle against relegation at local rivals West
Brom.

Central defender Dunne returned after
a two-and-a-half-month absence with a broken collarbone to help Villa
secure a goalless draw at the Hawthorns.

Full force: Aston Villa's Richard Dunne challenges Peter Odemwingie

Full force: Aston Villa's Richard Dunne challenges Peter Odemwingie

It kept Villa three points above the bottom three with two matches remaining – at home to Tottenham next Sunday and away to Norwich on the final day of the season.

McLeish said: 'Richard is a leader, a leader by example. We took a calculated gamble. Richard told me if I needed him, he was good to go.

'I said 'your presence would be wonderful' and so it proved because he produced a wonderful performance today.

'He headed everything, he read the play, he calmed the players down. It was a real top performance.

'He was a week ahead of schedule, he's not done much work with the group but, when you are his age (32), you know your body.

'When Richard volunteered for duty, we bit his hand off.'

Albion were denied a clear-cut penalty when Alan Hutton handled Liam Ridgewell's on the line but McLeish felt Villa had two strong claims of their own for spot-kicks.

He said: 'Hutton did (appear to handle) but I thought it was very similar to Chris Brunt handling. If Hutton is a penalty, then Brunt's is a penalty.

Safety in numbers: Alex McLeish on the bench

Safety in numbers: Alex McLeish on the bench

'Then we had a better shout with five minutes to go when Jonas Olsson slid along the ground and dragged the ball with his arm when Ciaran Clark's shot was going in the bottom corner.

'We felt a bit disappointed we didn't get that decision.'

McLeish opted to remain seated in the dug-out for long spells with assistant manager Peter Grant directing operations from the technical area.

But McLeish denied this had anything to do with him being public enemy number one with some sections of Villa fans.

He said: 'My seat was in the middle and it was a bit of a chore trying to get past Peter Grant so I just let him stay out there and pass the messages on.

'It just didn't seem appropriate today. I like to stand up normally but I also sat in the dug-out for the Old Trafford game recently.

'Was I keeping my head down because
of the fans No, don't read anything into it. It was circumstances
similar to Old Trafford.'

Roy Hodgson took pleasure from Albion finishing ahead of Villa in the division for the first time in 33 years.

He said: 'I'm happy enough with a
point, I'm happy with another clean sheet – our 10th of the season –
which is very good considering how difficult we found getting clean
sheets last season.

Focused: Aston Villa midfielder Chris Herd climbs above Liam Ridgwell

Focused: Aston Villa midfielder Chris Herd climbs above Liam Ridgwell

'I'm also glad to confirm – for the first time in goodness knows how many years – we've finished above Aston Villa in the table so it's not been a bad day.

't would have been a wonderful day if we'd won it, but I mustn't be too greedy and I'll save a victory over Villa for next season.

'It was important our players didn't allow people the opportunity to say we took the game too lightly and weren't as interested in getting a point – or three points – as the opposition.'

Hodgson believes Shay Given's injury-time save to deny Baggies striker Peter Odemwingie the winner may prove crucial to Villa's survival hopes.

He said: 'It was a phenomenal save. Had that gone in, it would have been quite difficult for Villa given the other results.

'Bolton did well to take a point at Sunderland and Wigan have had a great result against Newcastle so it would have been tougher for Villa.'

Hodgson felt the Baggies should have been awarded a spot-kick for the Hutton handball.

He said: 'Obviously you can't see it's a penalty from the bench, more than Mark Clattenburg can see it because he's shielded by players.

'But when I look at the replays of course, I think maybe we should have one and that the linesman should probably have seen it.'