Villa continue McLeish talks despite fans' protests

Aston Villa will today step up their bid to secure Alex McLeish as their new manager.

Aston Villa will today step up their bid to secure Alex McLeish as their new manager.

Club owner Randy Lerner held two rounds of positive and productive discussions with McLeish yesterday after identifying the Scot as prime candidate to replace Gerard Houllier, who left Villa a fortnight ago due to concerns over his health.

McLeish quit Villa’s local rivals Birmingham on Sunday and flew back from a family holiday in Corsica to speak with Lerner in London.

Villa believe they are entitled to talk to McLeish after claiming he is a free agent.

But Blues are still hoping to obtain £5.4m in compensation for the remaining two years of McLeish’s contract.

Several hundred Villa fans voiced their opposition to McLeish taking charge during a protest at Villa Park yesterday evening.

One of them, Chris Hearn, who had ’No McLeish’ printed on his shirt, said “Our board has bankrupted Aston Villa’s credibility.

“They aren’t listening to us, but they’ll notice when the team is playing in front of a half-empty stadium.”

Another protester, Brian Johnson, said: “I’ll be totally disgruntled if they appoint McLeish.

“The board got it wrong with Houllier so they needed to get this one right, and I don’t think they have.”

But Lerner has noted the success McLeish brought to Birmingham during the past three years, despite them being relegated from the Barclays Premier League last month.

The former Rangers boss guided Blues to promotion in his first full season at St Andrew’s and secured a highest top division placing of ninth in 2009/10.

McLeish then led his side to Carling Cup final success over Arsenal at Wembley in February – the club’s first major trophy for nearly 50 years.

Former Villa boss Ron Atkinson believes McLeish could win over supporters with a couple of major signings and by keeping hold of reported Liverpool target Stewart Downing.

Atkinson said: “You’ve got to admire Alex’s courage for wanting it and for taking it on. But now he has to meet the hostility head on.

“He can’t be a shrinking violet. He has to get out there and meet the Villa fans and tell them why he he has come to the job.

“Ashley Young is off to Manchester United but he could win favour by saying that no-one else leaves and he’ll have to say ’you’re not going’ to Stewart Downing.

“Also, nothing wins fans over more than a couple of bold, exciting signings. That will do wonders for his standing.”

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