Richard Dunne has urged fans to put aside their grievances with manager Alex McLeish “for a few weeks” and instead support the team’s bid to beat the drop.
Dunne, who is Aston Villa vice-captain, has been out since February with a broken collarbone and left to watch from the sidelines as McLeish’s side were dragged into the mire.
Villa currently sit three points above the Barclays Premier League drop zone with three games to play, following a woeful run of form culminating in Tuesday’s 2-1 home defeat by fellow strugglers Bolton.
McLeish has never been popular with supporters – not least because he arrived from cross-city rivals Birmingham last summer – and his stock among fans has deteriorated further as Villa’s plight has worsened.
Dunne, however, believes criticism has been harshly directed at the Scot and insists it is in the fans’ interests to support the team.
He said: “It’s very important for the fans that they support us, because they want to be watching Premier League football next season. “We are giving our ideal and things just haven’t gone right for us.
“But we’ve got three weeks to go and we need three weeks of big support from everyone. We need everyone behind us and hopefully they will see the benefit of this season being a season when we’ve blooded six or seven youngsters in the first team and we can build on that and learn from this experience.”
The Republic of Ireland centre-half questioned whether McLeish’s Birmingham connections are an issue with supporters.
“It’s obviously difficult to come across and if you look at the begin of the season, up to Christmas we were probably in a reasonable enough position where we were always three points away from pushing on to challenge for a top-six, top-seven position.
“Since the turn of the year Robbie Keane has gone back to Los Angeles, we’ve had a couple of injuries and we’ve just not been able to put out a settled side. It’s not helped.
“I don’t think it’s the fact he’s come from Birmingham, it’s the fact the results haven’t gone our way and the fans have been frustrated themselves.
“But it’s deeper than just what’s happened on the pitch because it’s not that bad there. It’s everything that goes on. The injury list, obviously the illness to Stan (Stiliyan Petrov’s leukaemia) knocked everyone as well.
“It’s hard, we just need the support now for a few weeks.”
Dunne was quick to jump to McLeish’s defence.
“We work with him all day, every week, and we know how much work he is putting into it,” he said. “He is the person who keeps our group going and keeps us all motivated, so we don’t like to see him getting any stick because it’s us, at the end of the day, who are out on the pitch. I know the fans have their issues and stuff but we need them to get behind him, to get behind us, to get behind everyone.
“He is doing his ideal for us. He’s been unfortunate with the injury list that he’s had all through the season.”
Villa have the chance to boost their survival hopes against West Brom on Saturday and will have leader Dunne back in their ranks after he returned to training.
“I’ve been training in the last week and I’m ready to go and available for the game at the weekend,” he said.
“It’s been frustrating because I sort of felt all right but it hadn’t fully knitted together at that point but I went to see the surgeon last week and he stated everything’s fine and I’m ready to go again.”
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