McLeish short of support at stumbling Villa
AT VILLA PARK
Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish found a supportive voice in American owner Randy Lerner as he walked Villa Park's corridors after defeat to Bolton. He would not have found much sympathy elsewhere.
With around five minutes left of a damaging loss that leaves Villa only three points above the relegation places), the discontent which has simmered since McLeish arrived from relegated rivals Birmingham City last June spilled over into hostile, abusive discontent.
Fans on The Holte End were wrestling with an anti-McLeish "Get The 'Eck' Out Of Here" banner when chants demanding the Scot's sacking - and others of a more unsavoury but equally uncomplimentary nature - rang deafeningly around Villa Park.
McLeish stood alone outside his technical area, almost bemused at how Villa had transformed a deserved one-goal lead given to them by Stephen Warnock into a loss that leaves them with genuine relegation fears as Martin Petrov's penalty and David Ngog's winner gave Bolton the points.
McLeish is now in danger of a second successive relegation with a Birmingham club. Photo: Getty
Villa are now only three points above the relegation zone, and when the final whistle sounded on a result that ensures they will endure their worst sequence of home results in their history, McLeish was left in no doubt that vast swathes of the club's supporters inside the ground wanted him out.
One respected Villa media observer of almost 20 years standing had no hesitation in declaring this was the worst abuse he had heard directed at a manager of the club in that time.
McLeish has needed a thick skin from the moment he walked into Villa's Bodymoor Heath training complex in the sunshine last June, switching managerial jobs across the city just days after quitting Birmingham.
The Scot and owner Lerner knew the risks the appointment carried. McLeish may have won the Carling Cup for Birmingham but plenty of Villa fans were unimpressed by his arrival.
They might have enjoyed McLeish's work in taking their rivals down, but this did not mean they wanted him at their club.
Protests before McLeish's arrival hardly hinted at a warm welcome - and results and circumstances conspired until the situation reached the outpouring of anger aimed at one man that was witnessed on Tuesday.
No matter that Villa had actually been excellent for an hour. No matter that McLeish has been deprived of a succession of high-profile players such as Stiliyan Petrov through serious illness and main goalscorer Darren Bent through injury.
No matter that he never had the chance to utilise Ashley Young and Stewart Downing before they left. No matter that he has been increasingly forced to rely on promising but raw academy products.
The bottom line is that McLeish's managerial history means he will not be cut any slack from a fair portion Villa's support and he has not been able to arm himself with the only shield of protection he could in the shape of good results.
It is unfair on Villa's followers to suggest his Birmingham background alone has been the catalyst for such discontent. The judgement comes with results and performances and McLeish has come up short on both these counts.
McLeish has been fighting a battle that could only be won with a good first season - and 13 points from 16 games in 2012 does not come close to bridging the widening gap between manager and supporters.
Aston Villa now have West Bromwich Albion away, Tottenham at home and Norwich away, while McLeish faces the unedifying prospect of being the man who took both of the Second City's clubs down in successive seasons.
It is still in their hands but the manner in which their confidence visibly, indeed almost instantly, drained away once Bolton equalised was ominous.
McLeish fought the good fight afterwards but it is hard to see how he can reverse such a strength of feeling against him from fans frustrated by what they see as an unattractive style, results and - a not insignificant factor - the club he served before arriving at Villa Park.
West Brom manager Roy Hodgson was observing from the stands and it is highly unlikely The Hawthorns will provide any respite for McLeish or Villa this weekend. Indeed they may take a local rival's delight in pushing them closer to the Championship.
McLeish was right to point in the direction of Villa's fine performance for the first hour but the mood turned vicious and sour once it became clear this was a losing cause.
He is still confident Villa will stay up but owner Lerner will have heard how determined so many of his team's fans were to deliver a damning disapproval of McLeish.
The first priority for McLeish and Lerner will be to see this season out and hopefully conclude it still in the Premier League. They must then work out if they can devise a strategy that can somehow win over the thousands of dissenters or cut their losses and decide this is a footballing marriage that is destined not to work.
McLeish insists he will not walk away from a three-year contract and as one of the most battle-hardened men in the game. This is no surprise - but he will need Lerner to be as supportive as he was on Tuesday.