Dunne setback hits Villa rescue bid
Aston Villa's disappointment at slipping back into the Premier League's bottom three has been heightened by fresh concerns over their absentee defensive kingpin Richard Dunne.
At a time when Ron Atkinson has cited a lack of leaders as one of the biggest problems facing his former club in their survival battle, the Republic of Ireland international has suffered a blow in his comeback plans.
Dunne, 33, was considered to be on the verge of returning to Paul Lambert's youthful defence but the manager has given a worrying update in the wake of the 2-1 defeat against Newcastle United.
"It looks like he has had a setback," the manager said. "We will have to wait and see over the next few days whether it settles down again. He trained on Monday but came in today (Tuesday) and felt something."
With supporters close to giving up on any hope of transfer-market reinforcements before the window shuts on Thursday night, Dunne's availability would feel like a big boost as he hasn't played for the club since the defeat at Norwich at the end of last season. He then had five outings for the Republic before and at Euro 2012.
The Dubliner's two previous clubs, Everton and Manchester City, appear ominously on Villa's fixture list over the next month and a half, with a trip to Arsenal also thrown in. It is a tough run for a side low on confidence but at least midfielder Fabian Delph may be fit after a sprained ankle for the first of those assignments, at Goodison Park on Saturday.
And Gabby Agbonlahor, who won the penalty that accelerated last night's sustained but unavailing rescue bid against Newcastle, said: "In the second-half performance, there was a lot more fight and belief. We have to take some heart out of that for Everton."
Lambert acknowledges that his squad have to 'fight like hell' to haul themselves out of a hole that deepened with the good draws gleaned by QPR and Wigan on Tuesday.
Villa have taken only two points from their last seven League games, conceding 22 goals and scoring five in the process while also going out of the two domestic cups to lower-division opposition.
"If things don't go your way, people don't want to make mistakes," the manager said. "They want to play the safe pass.
"The performance against Newcastle was night and day between the first and second half. We were too deep in the first half and too reserved with our passing. We are going to have to fight like hell to get ourselves out of it."