The Grim Reaper is alive and well and looking to impose himself at a football club near you.

A month or so ago, Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce emphasised the importance of trying to drag as many teams as possible into the fight to avoid relegation.

One assumed that they meant Middlesbrough and Fulham. But did anybody expect Aston Villa to fall into the equation?

A quick look at the Premiership table, however, reveals that Villa are in 16th position and no longer have the right to feel safe.

With matches against West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City to come this month, Villa are suddenly enduring the pressure.

David O'Leary, their manager, who has wasted much of his energy recently by squabbling with a local journalist, is looking lame; a latterday Billy McNeil, admittedly with better suits.

But it would take an outrageous series of results for Villa to finish in the bottom three on May 7. The reality is that Birmingham and Albion are the clubs in the mire, now that Portsmouth have found a momentum from somewhere.

Bruce, the Birmingham manager, was relatively happy after the 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea on Saturday, but the plight of his team worsened. Robson at Albion grows increasingly concerned after his team lost 2-0 at home to Liverpool.

Villa's 5-0 defeat away to Arsenal was half-expected given that O'Leary divided the previous week between talking up the opposition and trying to undermine the aforementioned reporter.

The results at the weekend mean that the three West Midlands clubs in the Premiership occupy positions in the bottom five.

The county will lose at least one club to the Coca-Cola Championship, possibly two, and, whatever happens, there are sure to be recriminations at Villa Park.

It is curious that of the three managers, it is O'Leary who should feel most vulnerable. Robson is untouchable (he would have to do something very grave to lose his job at The Hawthorns), Bruce remains popular at St Andrew's (he is safe for the calendar year at least), but O'Leary is losing what little affection he held among Villa supporters.

"We're not fickle, we just don't like you," is the mantra among the growing disillusioned of Villa Park. The "you" in question is O'Leary himself.

Public relations are everything in football and O'Leary's are, alas, lamentable. Whoever is advising him might do better to learn that politics (in football as in every other sphere) is all about perception.

If Villa lose to both Albion and Birmingham this month, expect O'Leary's position to come under further scrutiny [2014] and Villa's status in the top flight to appear less certain.

These three great clubs, and their patient supporters, deserve better than this but the summer of 2006 will be all about the licking of wounds, with some wounds deeper than others.

The West Midlands is a hotbed of football, but somebody has removed the duvet and we are all starting to feel cold.