The Villa fans who travelled to Eastlands were left furious after Houllier made eight changes to his starting line-up on a night when City triumphed 3-0 to end any hopes the Midlands club had of winning silverware at the end of a dismal season.
In a bizarre chain of events at Villa's training groundon Friday Houllier suggested that he had made the decision to rest a number of his leading players, including Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and Marc Albrighton, because he did not believe that his strongest starting line-up would have been capable of beating Manchester City. Houllier, however, later retracted those comments and apologised to the supporters for his team selection.
"I'm sorry," said Houllier, who claimed that Randy Lerner, Villa's owner, and Paul Faulkner, the club's chief executive, were aware of his plans at City. "Perhaps I should have warned the fans before but it is not as if I was playing the youth team. I took a risk but these are good players."
By saying sorry, Houllier has gone a step further than his predecessor Martin O'Neill, who never apologised for his controversial decision to leave out eight first-team regulars in the Uefa Cup tie against CSKA Moscow two years ago. Houllier, however, still has some way to go to repair his relationship with the Villa supporters, who will have noted that the Frenchman was apologising for failing to tell them beforehand about his line-up rather than his decision to sacrifice the FA Cup.
Houllier, though, seems to be increasingly resigned to the idea that the Villa fans have little time for him. Alluding to the mistake that Wojciech Szczesny made last weekend, when the Arsenal goalkeeper's mix up with Laurent Koscielny handed Birmingham City, Villa's arch rivals, the Carling Cup, Houllier said: "The fans have a go at me because the goalkeeper of Arsenal messes around."
Asked whether there were a section of Villa supporters that have an agenda against him, Houllier replied: "What's more important for me is your environment, and that's the chairman, the club and the players and I know what I'm doing. The chairman and Paul knew about the selection. I told them. We have got quality now. There's no excuse apart from the fact we conceded two early goals."
Villa are currently 12th, five points above the relegation zone, and head to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday with Houllier maintaining that they could still need another three wins to be safe. "The league is such that we are more comfortable than at Christmas but we need more points to stay up," he said. "We might need 42 points to stay up, so the job is not done yet. We have an important game. [Bolton] have 37 points and we have 33. It's a final for us – [there are] 10 finals to play."
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