Football: Huge challenge for Villa to bounce back to EPL if relegated

Aston Villa fans hold up a banner in protest against the team's poor performance.
Aston Villa fans hold up a banner in protest against the team's poor performance.PHOTO: REUTERS

London (The Guardian) - Eric Black has warned Aston Villa to expect a promotion push from the Championship to prove more physically demanding than attempting to stay in the Premier League.

The former Birmingham City assistant manager, now in caretaker charge at Villa Park, knows from successful experience across the second city 10 years ago that following relegation from the Premier League with an immediate return is "a massive, massive challenge".

Demotion will be confirmed on Saturday, even before Villa kick off at Old Trafford, if Norwich City avoid defeat by Sunderland at lunchtime, but Black understands that even if the club manage to get their claws back, they will be treated as "the Manchester United of the Championship" and must recast the squad to cope with the greater intensity of fixtures.

The new-look board should take their time over appointing a new manager, after Remi Garde followed Tim Sherwood out of the door last month, but recovering from the communal trauma of relegation, with the inherent turnaround of personnel, in order to regain a winning mentality is far harder than it sounds.

"It is extremely difficult," Black, who helped Steve Bruce to turn Birmingham around in 2006-07, said. "It is a massive, massive challenge for any club to go down. When you look at the case of Aston Villa, I did all the stats nine years ago.

"You come from a base of winning three games this season and if Aston Villa are in the Championship next season they're going to have to win a minimum of 26 or 27 to get out. You've got that complete change of the expectation and the pressure and everything that goes with it.

"Aston Villa now will be like Manchester United if they go into the Championship and go to Rotherham, or wherever. It's a huge challenge but it's not an impossible challenge.

"It's a really tough division. Psychologically it's a hard division and physically it's a harder division than the Premier League at times because of the repetition of games. So the squad has to be constructed properly, otherwise you give yourself a mountain to climb."

Nigel Pearson looks best suited to the challenge, after he laid the foundations for Leicester City's success, and Black acknowledges that a commanding figurehead is required. "There has to be a strong mentality that runs through the group," he said, "because you have some really difficult tasks out there on a Tuesday night when it's not a 30,000 (crowd) and people … are extremely aggressive against you."

Jordan Ayew scored Villa's first goal in five games but only after Bournemouth had in effect rubberstamped their top-flight status with a deserved win built on goals from Steve Cook, following a short-corner routine, and Josh King, after Ciaran Clark committed the 14th unforced error that has led to Villa conceding this season.

After eight successive defeats, Villa's target appears to be avoiding the club record of 11, set in 1963, whereas Bournemouth, who fielded eight survivors from the team that won promotion from League One three years ago, can start setting their sights on next season when Callum Wilson, returning after seven months out injured, can seek to build on the promising start he made to the Premier League last autumn.

"These are great days for the football club," Eddie Howe, Bournemouth's manager, said. "I want to savour it for a few seconds, then think about next week."