Southgate impressed with Villa structure

Last updated : 08 November 2008 By Tom Vickers
By Eoin Manning

Aston Villa welcome Middlesbrough to Villa Park on Sunday afternoon hoping to get their league form back on track following last Monday's 2-0 defeat away to Newcastle.

The season to this point has been a qualified success for Villa, fifth place in the Premiership, sitting pretty at the top of the UEFA Cup Group F league table. The Carling Cup fiasco aside, Villa appear to have made great strides on last season's successful campaign.

Following today's result at the Emirates, a win will see Villa leapfrog Manchestr United and move into 4th place in the league table which would really excite Villa fans.

But, it should come as no surprise considering Sir Alex Ferguson himself predicts that the Claret and Blue are the team most likely to break into the top four and he kind of knows what he's talking about.

Middlesbrough manager and former Villa captain Gareth Southgate has been equally impressed with his old club's ascent under the guidance of Martin O'Neill:
"I greatly respect his record as a player and as a manager," he said.

"I think people forget just how successful he was as a player. He's a European Cup winner and a Championship winner, so he had a great pedigree as a player and also a great pedigree with all the clubs he's managed."

Southgate left the club after becoming disillusioned Doug Ellis' reluctance to spend money on the type of players who would have brought the club to the next plateau but he is now more philosophical about Deadly Doug's prudence. He said: "Now they are probably benefiting from the good housekeeping Doug Ellis did when I was there.

"He very much ran it as a profitable business and they wouldn't be able to be in the situation to spend money like they are now but for the way he'd run it in the past."


The home side are set to welcome back wide man James Milner and powerhouse striker Marlon Harewood, who both missed Thursday night's UEFA Cup victory over Slavia Prague due injury and a new addition to the family respectively.

Stiliyan Petrov is again unavailable due to a hamstring strain.

Any of the six players (Brad Guzan, Zat Knight, Curtis Davies, Craig Gardner, Steve Sidwell and Moustapha Salifou) who came into the side on Thursday evening for the UEFA Cup game will believe they have done enough to give O' Neill a selection headache.

Davies and Sidwell are likely to stand the best chance of playing.

Should the Ulsterman wish to play any of the above he will have a difficult job in deciding who to leave out and that is a problem he has brilliantly created for himself due to his savvy in the transfer market enabled by one of the finer chairmen in British football.

Middlesbrough for their part have a very decent chairman of their own in Steve Gibson who has afforded Southgate ample time to stamp his mark on the Riversiders and backed him in the transfer market wherever possible.

Rather surprisingly for a player who was of a defensive mindset, Southgate has assembled a team top-heavy with attacking talent. The likes of Mido, Tuncay Sanli, Jeremie Aliadiere and the occasionally brilliant Brazilian Alfonso Alves are a handful for any opponent.

In defence, former Arsenal player Justin Hoyte is expected to replace England prospect David Wheater at right back to combat Villa's attacking pace.

Anything other than three points will leave Villa's fans feeling disgruntled and it is up to the team to go and do what they're quite good at these days - win.