David O'Leary last night defended Lee Hendrie's part in the mass brawl that marred Aston Villa's pre-season match with Tamworth, despite discovering that he could be without the troublesome midfielder for three games early next season.
Hendrie was one of two players sent off in Sunday night's 'friendly' at The Lamb when he and Kyle Storer traded blows in an incident that saw both players dismissed and sparked a 21-man melee.
Villa were considering an appeal but in the absence of suitable video evidence they are now reliant on the Football Association and whether they decide to uphold the decision by referee Rob Hyde and impose a three-game ban.
And if Hendrie is suspended he could play the first match of the new campaign, against Bolton Wanderers, but will be forced to miss trips to Manchester United, Portsmouth and the visit from Blackburn.
But the Villa manager is not going to further punish a player who is establishing a reputation for misdemeanours.
"I wasn't at the game myself, so I've had to speak Roy [Aitken] and Kevin [MacDonald] who were in charge," O'Leary said. "Both of them believe there was provocation and confirmed that, in this instance, Lee has been harshly done by.
"We have also had supporters phoning Villa Park, saying that he was more sinned against than sinning.
"I'm not condoning any of my players being involved in incidents of this sort but I cannot throw the book at him when the evidence I have suggests otherwise."
But Hyde confirmed that he had included the punch-up in his official report and defended himself from allegations that he could handled things differently.
He said: "It was a nice, quiet affair until the 81st minute. Then I saw two players wrestle each other to the ground and strike each other.
"If I had taken them to one side, I wouldn't have been doing my job properly. They were sent off for violent conduct and there's no place for that in football."
On the positive side for Villa Schalke 04 pulled out of the race to sign Liverpool striker Milan Baros after admitting that they could not afford him.
The Bundesliga side had seemingly headed the pursuit of the Czech Republic international after agreeing personal terms with his agent Pavel Paska over the weekend.
But Liverpool's reluctance to let 23-year-old leave on a loan and Schalke's inability to come up with the £7 million asking price could leave the door open for Villa.
That effectively ends their interest with Germans' finance chief, Josef Schnusenberg, confirming as much.
"We will try to get this player (Baros) on a loan basis from Liverpool. But we should not get overexcited.
"Especially such a deal can only be done if everything happens; the deal, the loan and that there is not a condition that we have to buy the player in a year."
Asked if Schalke would pay out nine million euro for Baros in 12 months, Schnusenberg said: "Not as it stands today."
That confirms the sentiments of general manager Rudi Assauer who had said it would be the club's "biggest transfer of all time" if they could sign the forward.
"We could only justify it if we were guaranteed Champions League football for the next three seasons. There is no guarantee," Assauer said.
Which leaves just Villa and West Ham as self-confessed admirers although there is thought to be a 'mystery' club who have be tailing Baros.
"I don't think that Schalke is his only option," said Paska. "Liverpool will have the final say, though I do expect that Milan's transfer will be finalised soon."