Aston Villa V Swansea at Villa Park : Match Preview
01 January 2012 03:01
Petrov pipes up in support of Ireland
Stiliyan Petrov insisted Aston Villa's players never stopped believing Stephen Ireland would come good after the midfielder put his Twitter troubles behind him to inspire their shock victory at Chelsea.
Saturday saw Ireland deliver the perfect response to manager Alex McLeish's demand for him to make headlines on the field after making more waves off it over Christmas.
Days earlier, Ireland's girlfriend posted a photograph of the 25-year-old smoking a Shisha pipe on Twitter, something that clearly irked McLeish.
But that did not stop the Scot recalling the controversial midfielder on Saturday, a decision that paid off spectacularly as Villa won at Stamford Bridge for the first time in almost a decade.
Ireland delivered a man-of-the-match display, scoring his first goal for the midlanders and first for more than two years, as well as setting up their game-clinching third in a 3-1 victory.
Despite struggling to make an impact at Villa Park since his #8million move from Manchester City, Ireland never lost the confidence of his team-mates, according to captain Petrov.
"A lot of people have given up on Ireland but we haven't," said Petrov, who scored Villa's second goal.
"We can see him every day in training, what kind of player he is, and he came in under a lot of pressure and put in a very fine performance."
McLeish challenged Ireland to reproduce that standard in every game, warning he could be soon out of the side again if not.
"I can't say to players, `I'll give you five games', if we're going to get beaten in those five games," McLeish said.
"We need instant performances from my players."
McLeish has vowed to do everything in his power to ensure Petrov is fit for Villa's game against Swansea.
Captain Petrov limped off at Chelsea and manager McLeish was planning to pull out all the stops to ensure he did not miss Villa's first match of 2012.
Darren Bent could start after netting on his return from injury as a substitute at Stamford Bridge, while fellow forward Emile Heskey may be on the bench having shaken off an Achilles problem.
Meanwhile, Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers believes his side's performance in the 1-1 draw against Tottenham will act as a huge psychological boost in their bid to retain their top-flight status - and hopefully help them end their wait for an away win.
Scott Sinclair's late equaliser gave the Swans a deserved share of the spoils against Harry Redknapp's title hopefuls and moved them five points clear of the relegation zone at the halfway stage of the season, after being roundly tipped to go down.
"That was as good a performance as we have produced against a real top side," said Rodgers.
"For Spurs to arrive here with their form and quality and for us to play as we did against a top side shows growth. I am very proud of the players.
"To show that level of performance against a top team, to come from behind when we could have felt sorry for ourselves was fantastic.
"Many sides after playing that well for 43 minutes and then going a goal down could have got down, Tottenham can run over teams like that and win 3-0 or 4-0.
"But we showed resolve and resistance as well as quality. Hopefully that provides that extra boost of confidence for the second half of the season.
"What this does is it gives us the confidence we can stay in the league, our objective was to stay at this level because it is such an exciting league.
"This was a brilliant day for supporters and journalists to see our minnows facing such quality players, but to be the better side shows how the squad and club has grown."
Rodgers is likely to make several changes to his starting line-up.
Rodgers made six changes to his side for the draw with Tottenham, and is likely to again freshen up his starting line-up as they face the challenge of playing twice in 48 hours.
Loan signing Steven Caulker was ineligible to face his parent club on Saturday but is set to come in for Garry Monk, while Danny Graham and Leon Britton are in line to replace Luke Moore and Stephen Dobbie. Full-back Angel Rangel could also start after featuring off the bench against Spurs.