American goalkeeper Brad Friedel says Aston Villa never had a ‘God -given’ right to fourth place in the Premier League and believes that fifth would still represent Mission Accomplished this season.
Martin O’Neill’s side blew an eight- point lead over Arsenal in February and were seconds away from an eight-point gap again over the Gunners in early March only to throw away a 2-0 lead over Stoke City in the dying moments.
(Discuss the season with Bill Howell today at 1pm on www.birminghampost.net/live)
Within 48 hours a six-point gap became three with Arsenal winning at West Bromwich Albion and Arsene Wenger’s side have build up their momentum through a run of 20 league games unbeaten – seven more than Villa’s 13- game run up to February which was their longest in the top flight in 99 years.
Following a wretched run of four points from 27 available, they are just two points clear of sixth-placed Everton with Arsenal ten points clear and out of sight.
Yet Friedel says Villa must be judged on the improvement from last season when they finished sixth with 60 points, rather on what might have been.
“I think it is massively important that we finish in fifth this season. If we do that, it’s been a step up from the previous campaign. That would be great,” he said.
“As long as there is a progression made, everyone – the fans, chairman, manager and players – will be upbeat about the coming season.
“If we do miss out, it won’t be a lost season but it is important to see one of our goals achieved and that was finishing higher than last season. That would give us a boost ahead of the coming season.
“Saying that, if someone had offered me fifth at the start of the season, I wouldn’t have accepted it.
“When I was doing all my talks before I joined, the ambition of the club was impressed upon me.”
Villa had taken 51 points from their opening 21 games of the season when they won at Blackburn Rovers on February 7, their last victory and the last time Friedel has kept a clean sheet.
The talk then was ‘if’ they could close a three-point gap on the then-leaders Liverpool.
“I’m not saying it’s a God-given right (to finish fourth) but we had a great chance at one stage to solidify our place in fourth”, said Friedel.
“It wasn’t to be and certainly doesn’t mean this season is a throw-away. But if you handed me fifth at the start, I wouldn’t have taken it, I would have played the season through and seen what happened.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill says the English Premier League would benefit from the inclusion of his former club Celtic and their Scottish rivals Rangers.
The proposal to create a two-tier Premier League could be discussed at the league’s AGM in June.
O’Neill, who left Celtic in 2005 after five years in charge, said the Old Firm would be a hit in England.
“My personal thought is that Celtic and Rangers would enhance the Premier League,” he said.
Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside is believed to have proposed allowing the Old Firm clubs to move to England as part of a two-tier Premier League of 18 teams each.
“Glasgow is a phenomenal football city – Celtic house 60,000 and Rangers house 50,000,” O’Neill continued.
“I’m not sure about Rangers but I know Celtic’s capacity could go from 60,000 to 80,000 overnight – without a doubt.
“When I was manager of Celtic a number of years ago, there was some talk of both teams joining the Premier League in some capacity. There was mention of them being put in the Championship too, or maybe even lower down than that, and then making them work their way up through promotion.
“If forced to do that, they would eventually get to the top and end up as monumental players in the Premier League.”
O’Neill added: “I suppose Belgian teams could then ask to join the Dutch league and Dutch teams could then request to join the Bundesliga.
“All of those points would have to be considered. But if you’re asking for a personal opinion, I think Celtic and Rangers joining would enhance the Premier League and make us all strive to get better.
“I certainly support the idea. But, then again, I could be a voice in the wilderness.”
Villa are hosting a family activity day on Monday May 4 – in the run-up to the home game against Hull City.
Villa Park will be split into three special areas from 4pm to 7.30pm with a sports zone where five community coaches will be hosting football activities, inclusing a ‘speed cage’ to measure the power of shots.
A heritage tent will allow fans to have their photo taken with famous trophies, including the European and FA Cups with former Villa heroes on hand to sign autographs.
The main arena will house face painters, world-champion break dancers and a football freestyler.