The Ecuadorian international has recently become the subject of taunts from Villa boo-boys following a series of insipid performances but O’Leary was quick to leap to the 31-year-old’s defence yesterday. “I've no-one else to play,” he helpfully opined, shrugging his shoulders and ruefully ruffling the player's hair. “I've nobody to save the lad and take him out of the firing line to get him through this."
The right-back, a £1.5m signing from Hibernian in the summer of 2002, has enjoyed a good season covering for Mark Delaney, after the Welsh international moved to the heart of the defence to replace the injured Martin Laursen. But his form has dipped in recent weeks and he has become the target of jeering from a minority of Villa fans, most notably during the home game against Everton at the end of last month.
In truth, nobody played well in the 3-1 defeat but he was picked out for his perceived lack of resilience. Fortunately though, De la Cruz has the unequivocal support of his manager. “I picked up a lad that no-one wanted and people are shouting 'Useless De la Cruz',” O'Leary thoughtfully added, furiously waving a red cape at a bunch of skinheads across the road.
"He’s a lad who tries to do the best but he is a lad that lacks confidence a lot. He's having an indifferent time and lacking confidence, maybe playing better away from home, but we have to go with him because I have nobody else at the club.” And with that Tubbs slapped De la Cruz on the back and sent him on his way...before sniggering manically and pointing to the ‘kick me’ sticker the defender was now sporting.