Stewart Downing believes the Aston Villa players must take their share of the responsibility for a disastrous season that has left the club fighting to avoid relegation.
Villa travel to Everton on Saturday only one point above the bottom three and with pressure mounting on the manager Gérard Houllier after a run of one win in six Premier League matches. Houllier faced severe criticism from the club's supporters after the 1-0 home defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers a fortnight ago, when the team were booed off.
Downing, however, believes that the finger of blame for Villa's transformation from top-six contenders to relegation strugglers should be pointed at a squad replete with internationals. "It was tough at the start when Martin [O'Neill] left four or five days before the start of the season," said Downing. "Kev [MacDonald] came in and did quite well and then we knew Gérard was coming in. [But] I don't think we can blame the management [for what has happened]. It is the same set of players without James Milner.
"I have not spoken to [Houllier] about the abuse he got [from the fans]. But he seems fine and is smiling and talking to the lads. It is not very nice for him but he has been in football a long time and I am sure he understands why these things go on. I think it is easy to blame him because he is at the helm. But no matter what team he picks, we have to go out and get the points. He can instruct us to do things and if anyone is to blame it is us as a team."
Downing suffered relegation with Middlesbrough in 2009, when he was the club's captain, but he believes that the current Villa side is much better equipped to survive. "We had a lot younger team with a lot of players playing their first season in the Premier League," said Downing, recalling his time with Middlesbrough. "I was probably one of the oldest players at 24-25. Here there are a lot of experienced players. We are probably a lot stronger than that Middlesbrough team."
At the end of that season, Downing joined Villa for £12m, although he had to wait until November to make his debut for the Midlands club because of a toe injury picked up playing for Middlesbrough. He remains indebted to Villa for the belief they showed in him at a time when he was on crutches. "On a personal note I want to do well because it was a serious injury and the club put a lot of faith in me," said Downing.
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