Don’t expect boss aggro

Aston Villa manager Gerrard Houllier
Aston Villa manager Gerrard Houllier

THE pre-match handshake between Gerard Houllier and Ian Holloway is likely to be cursory at best, considering their recent verbal spat over Charlie Adam.

In a nutshell, Houllier tried to sign Adam. Holloway didn’t think Villa had offered enough and said so... and what followed was a couple of weeks’ worth of potshots at each other.

In all likelihood, nothing of interest will happen tomorrow. They will shake hands and get on with it – rows are commonplace in an environment where managers are under huge pressure.

Houllier and Holloway have been around long enough to know it’s all hot air and will be focused on the football.

“I don’t have spats with anyone,” said Holloway when asked about it. “This is football, you get on with it.”

Houllier will no doubt feel the same, and when Holloway threatened to resign a week or so back, the Frenchman was one of the first to urge him not to, saying “Holloway is great for the game”.

When it comes to events on the pitch, the tables have turned in the last few weeks.

Not long ago, it was Houllier under pressure, possibly regretting his decision to come back into English football for the first time since leaving Liverpool in 2004 as he struggled to transform Villa’s fortunes.

But being handed a wad of cash in the January transfer window by owner Randy Lerner enabled him to sign Darren Bent – for a fee which will rise to £24m – and Jean Makoun from Lyon, for £6m.

He also snapped up Kyle Walker on loan from Spurs, as well as highly-rated American midfielder Michael Bradley.

Not surprisingly, this has led to an upturn in results.

Villa have pulled away from the relegation zone and leapfrogged the Seasiders.

But the gap is only a place and a point, which is what makes tomorrow’s encounter so intriguing.

The reverse fixture at Villa Park was also intriguing, not so much for the scoreline (Villa won 3-2 thanks to a last-ditch winner from James Collins) but for the 10 changes made by Holloway.

It led to an angry manager flying into a rage afterwards at the media, who suggested he might get fined for making so many changes.

As it turned out, they were right. The club was hit with a £25,000 fine, which prompted Holloway – as promised – to offer his resignation to chairman Karl Oyston. Predictably, it was turned down.

Since that first meeting, Pool have played 13 Premier League games and won four.

Villa have played 14 and also won four. But, crucially, Houllier’s men have won three and drawn one of their last five outings – that’s in stark contrast to the Seasiders recent form.

Bent was the highest-profile arrival, and despite his hefty price tag, Villa believe they’ve done a tidy piece of business.

“I think Darren is outstanding value,” said Villa’s assistant boss Gary McAllister.

“Everyone was saying ‘wow, this is extortionate for Bent’. But now they are thinking ‘okay, Villa have done some good business there’. Half the money of Andy Carroll.

“We did our business early in the window, and when you see the prices at the back end of the transfer window – £35m, £50m – it looks a good buy.

“You can’t coach that goalscoring art into someone. It is a natural instinct, a sixth sense.”

Bent was one of five Villa players in the England squad which travelled to Denmark, along with Walker, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor. Bent and Young scored in the 2-1 win.

Walker, 20, who was an unused sub, is one to watch. The right-back scored his first league goal in last week’s draw with Fulham.

But the flood of new players has been bad news for former Pool loan man Barry Bannan, who has lost his place and will be lucky to make the bench.