By Chris Wright
Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier has warned midfielder Stephen Ireland that he will have to start proving his worth to the club after being overlooked for yesterday’s derby stalemate with Birmingham.
After the game, Houllier had stark words for the bench-bound Ireland:
“Stephen needs to work harder. He played against Chelsea and did well, he played against Sunderland and was not good enough to me – simple as that. He needs to work harder. The skill is one thing but you need to compete.
We know he is a good player but I don’t want to have a situation where you say ‘he is a good player, but…’.
If you say ‘he is a good player but he doesn’t defend, he doesn’t run back, he loses too many balls in crucial areas’, then that is difficult. He needs to get rid of these ‘buts’ about him and be a good player. He needs to work harder in games.”
Ireland has struggled for consistency since joining Villa from Man City over the summer, with Houllier preferring to deploy 21-year-old centre-back Ciaran Clark in central midfield against Brum whilst the skillful Irishman looked on from the bench.
In other Villa news, Houllier also confirmed that striker Gabriel Agbonlahor has stepped up his rehabilitation after undergoing groin surgery and may be ready to return to the first-team fold after next weekend’s game with Fulham – and, considering that his side haven’t scored in the last 344 minutes of Premier League football, that can only really be construed as a positive thing.