Downing: We're too good to go down
Published 23:00 07/12/10 By James Nursey
Stewart Downing insists Aston Villa are too good to be relegated - but admits Saturday's visit by West Bromwich Albion is now a must-win derby.
Villa, who finished sixth in each of the last three seasons under Martin O'Neill, are now just two points off the drop zone.
Their dismal televised 3-0 defeat at Liverpool was their fourth successive reverse - including a Carling Cup exit at bitter rivals Birmingham.
It was a nightmare return to Anfield for ex-Reds boss Gerard Houllier, who is enduring a torrid start to his Villa reign. The reverence shown by the Frenchman to his old club and its supporters on his 'homecoming' also infuriated Villa fans.
The Villa faithful were already moaning about a poor run of just two wins in 12 matches, but Houllier's post-match remark that "if I was going to lose 3-0 to anyone it would Liverpool as I like Liverpool" has gone down very badly.
Many Villa supporters have vowed to voice their displeasure on Saturday when local rivals Albion visit.
England winger Downing, 26, knows the club's woes are unacceptable, considering that Houllier's predecessor spent over £100million on his squad.
"We shouldn't be where we are with the players we have got," insisted Downing. "We still have the players to get results and performances.
"But you don't want to get into that habit when you think: 'Here we go again'. We've got a massive game on Saturday, in which we've got to put things right.
"We have to be man enough to stand up and have a right go. We have a good team but we need to win games and get some points on the board as quickly as possible.
"West Brom, with it being a derby as well, if we get a win then everything looks a lot more rosy.
"Looking at the table, we are down there, but is it so tight you can soon fly up. Then we can go into the Christmas period looking a bit more confident.
"When you are shipping goals, it is tough to take and sometimes confidence can be affected as a team. But whether we are confident or not we have to fight for points."
Villa, who have struggled with injuries and suspensions, were chronically bereft of ideas and spirit at Anfield on Monday night.
So the good news is that Houllier will have Ashley Young back from suspension on Saturday and fit-again Emile Heskey could also return. However, Ciaran Clark is banned and Stiliyan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker, Steve Sidwell and Fabian Delph remain crocked.
Worryingly for Villa, Houllier's only two Premier League wins have been courtesy of an 88th-minute Heskey winner against Wolves and an even later goal by James Collins against Blackpool.
Yet Downing, relegated previously with Middlesbrough in 2008-2009, insists he is not contemplating going down again.
The winger, signed from Boro for £12m in July 2009, added: "It is too early to talk about that.
"It was a totally different team at Middlesbrough with a bunch of kids - we were very young.
"I'm still confident we can put things right. If we can get some players back fit and start picking up a few points then we'll be fine.
"We are still a good squad and have players coming back from injury which is a big plus but that shouldn't be an excuse.
"Liverpool were missing Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard - arguably their best two players - but still won the game."
Prem relegation: 8-13 Wolves, West Ham; 8-11 Wigan; 11-10 Blackpool; 4-1 Fulham; 9-2 Birmingham; 5-1 Newcastle; 11-2 West Brom; 9-1 Villa
TOO GOOD? WE'VE HEARD THAT BEFORE, STEWART…
Newcastle, 2009 Newcastle’s 16-year stay in the Premier League ended when a final day defeat at Aston Villa condemned them to second-tier football. A team managed by Geordie hero Alan Shearer and including the likes of Shay Given, Damien Duff, Obafemi Martins and Michael Owen were often labelled ‘too good to go down’, but a series of off-pitch controversies saw them mired in a relegation struggle they lacked the gumption to escape.
Leeds, 2004 After gambling heavily on success, Leeds were left adrift a mere three years after reaching the Champions League semi-finals. It was their inability to continue competing in the highest echelon of European football that meant they had to try to balance the books by selling off influential stars such as Rio Ferdinand. Without them, the services of Alan Smith, Paul Robinson and James Milner couldn’t stave off the dreaded drop.
West Ham, 2003 The Hammers were relegated despite passing the hallowed 40-point mark. When manager Glenn Roeder had to step aside after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, club icon Trevor Brooking stepped into the breach. Under his stewardship, a squad full of talent took 22 points from the remaining 33 available. But commendable as their late-season efforts were, even David James, Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe and Freddie Kanoute couldn't save West Ham from the trapdoor.
Nottingham Forest, 1993 Even Brian Clough, second only to Robin Hood as the hero of Nottingham (and even that’s debatable), was unable to keep Forest in the top flight this time. Old Big 'Ead had brought the club unprecedented success, winning the European Cup, First Division title and League Cup - the latter just three years before end of his tenure - however, the club had sold key players. Teddy Sheringham and Des Walker had been shown the door, and Roy Keane was operating as a centre-half. Defensive stalwarts Stewart Pearce and Gary Charles did their best but failed to prevent the most unfitting of ends.
Manchester United, 1974 United have dominated the English domestic game in the modern era. However, it hasn’t always been the way. In 1974, the Old Trafford faithful witnessed the unthinkable - relegation, just six years after they'd won the European Cup. Perhaps suffering the post-Busby blues, a side controlled by Tommy Docherty saw their fate was sealed with a 1-0 loss to Manchester City. Famously, the solitary goal was a backheeled effort from United legend Denis Law, who Docherty had released on a free transfer less than a year before.