As Aston Villa debuts go, Gabor Kiraly's against Bolton Wanderers last Saturday was uneventful and uncomplicated. His day's work was essentially limited to only one task — retrieving the ball after conceding a goal from a late penalty.
But Kiraly, the Hungary international goalkeeper, was not entirely depressed. He was pleasantly surprised at how well the Villa defenders performed and how much football was played in the Bolton half of the pitch.
So much for the pre-match predictions that Bolton, never the prettiest of teams, would bombard Kiraly with high balls from set-pieces.
"Apart from the goal, I enjoyed my debut," Kiraly said. "We played well and the result was not fair. We should have won the match, with all the possession and chances we had, and it was disappointing to concede a goal."
That goal, in the 75th minute by Gary Speed, came after Stiliyan Petrov was harshly adjudged to have fouled Nicolas Anelka inside the penalty area.
It was impossible to find a Villa player who thought that the decision was correct — "it was not a foul," Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, said — but Kiraly needed the evidence of television before he could decide.
"There were too many bodies in the way for me to know if it should have been a penalty," he said. "I just saw the Bolton player go down and heard the referee blow for a penalty. I dived to my right but saw the ball go straight into the goal. Apart from that, I didn't have much to do."
If his lack of action is repeated when Villa play Manchester United on Saturday he will be pleased. That, however, is unlikely. Of all the teams who use the ground on which to play the ball, United are the quickest at moving forwards.
Kiraly expects more action but knows that Villa have the players to make it an interesting match.
With Thomas Sorensen and Stuart Taylor each suffering from a knee injury, Kiraly is likely to play for Villa for at least another three weeks and against United three times, at Villa Park on Saturday and twice at Old Trafford in January.
He is at Villa Park on an emergency loan deal from Crystal Palace and his stay is unlikely to be extended. Sorensen expects to be playing in mid-January.
But the possibility of three matches against United, plus one at Villa Park against Chelsea on January 2, fills Kiraly with enthusiasm.
"I am looking forward to playing against Manchester on Saturday," he said. "It will be no different to other matches I have played. For me, it is all about saving the ball as often as possible. But I do like the big matches."
This will be Villa's toughest four-week period of the season. Manchester United at home on Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur away on Boxing Day, Charlton Athletic away on December 30, Chelsea at home on January 2, United away in the FA Cup on January 6, then United away in the Premiership on January 13.
However, Kiraly, in his most recent match at Old Trafford, saved a penalty taken by Frank Lampard when England defeated Hungary 3-1 last May.
Gavin McCann has not ruled himself out of Saturday’s match, despite missing the second half against Bolton because of a hamstring injury. But if McCann does not pull through, O'Neill will have no hesitation in turning to Craig Gardener, who performed with distinction in the second half against Bolton. "I would have a better idea on Thursday," O'Neill said. "It is one of those. We will see how it is later in the week.
"The one thing you know with Gavin is that if he complains about an injury you know he's struggling. I want him to be mentally and physically right for the game. The fact we play a lot of games in a short space of time now is not a major issue. What matters is that he feels he's right for the game. Craig Gardener did well when he came into Saturday's game, so I would have no qualms about turning to him."
Villa will play away to Sheffield United in the FA Youth Cup fourth round on Thursday January 18 (7pm).