David O'Leary was quick to praise the Villa Park crowd for the supportive role it played in earning a precious Premiership survival point from yesterday's derby with West Bromwich Albion, writes Ged Scott.
The Aston Villa manager had six players aged 21 or under on duty in his side's tense 0-0 draw. Given the public criticism of O'Leary in recent weeks, any more could have added to the general air of disquiet in Midlands football.
But Villa's point keeps them eight points clear of relegation with only a month of the season remaining. Despite another disappointing Villa Park crowd - more than 9,000 below capacity - there was no evidence to support the assertion of one local radio station that "the vast majority of Villa fans want O'Leary out".
"I thought the crowd wase absolutely fantastic," O'Leary said. "Especially for the young lads in the team. They really got behind them and I'd have loved to have taken them all in the dressing-room afterwards to show them how much the players appreciated it.
"You could hear 'Oh, I made a mistake there, but nobody got on my back' stuff and that was great. It was important for me to keep encouraging them but I had the help of loads more people inside Villa Park."
O'Leary was particularly pleased with the contribution of 20-year-old rookie Gary Cahill on his Villa Park debut. He is hoping the Yorkshire-born stopper will accept the club's offer of a new four-year deal. "Young Cahill came in and did us proud," he said. "You want defenders dying in the box for you and he showed what a very committed lad he is. It's tough for the kids playing against senior players but this experience they are getting will stand them in good stead.
"The club have offered Gary a bigger deal, which is very fair, similar to what we offered to Steven Davis and Liam Ridgewell when they first came in - 'Prove yourself and you'll be rewarded'. It's maybe four times what he's on now and his representatives feel it's not good enough but the onus is on him now as the club won't be changing their mind."
Weekend knee scans show that neither Gareth Barry nor Mark Delaney need surgery.
O'Leary is confident of having Barry back for Sunday's derby with Birmingham City. But he has a doubt over Lee Hendrie, who suffered a painful foot injury after an early challenge by Albion's Paul Robinson.
"He's got a big stud mark on his instep," O'Leary said. "It cut through his boot and flared up. It's very sore and tender as it's right on the part he kicks with. And it was one of a number of early challenges I wasn't too happy with."