Football

Gerard can still turn from Villain to hero

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Gerard Houllier retains the support of Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner despite the club's slide towards the Barclays Premier League relegation zone.

Houllier will be backed in the January transfer window and is close to sealing the deal to sign France's Under-19 skipper Gueida Fofana from Le Havre for around £800,000.

Villa are only a point ahead of the relegation zone after their woeful performance in Tuesday's 4-0 defeat at Manchester City - and next on the agenda is Sunday's trip to champions Chelsea. But sources at Villa indicate Lerner and chief executive Paul Faulkner remain confident Houllier will eventually revive Villa's fortunes.

Houllier took over in mid-September after the summer transfer window had closed and has presided over only three league wins since replacing Martin O'Neill.

He has been handicapped by a series of injuries to senior players including Stiliyan Petrov, Emile Heskey, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Nigel Reo-Coker, Steve Sidwell and Luke Young.

In addition John Carew, Stephen Ireland and Richard Dunne's days at the club appear numbered.

Lerner recognises the seriousness of Villa's current plight - a stark contrast to top six finishes in their previous three campaigns.

But speculation that he and Faulkner met Houllier in Manchester after the debacle at Eastlands are wide of the mark and the Villa manager travelled home on the team coach.

After the trip to Stamford Bridge, Villa entertain Sunderland next Wednesday ahead of an FA Cup clash at Sheffield United three days later.

Fofana is regarded as one of France's brightest prospects and led his country to European Under-19 Championship success during the summer. He is well known to Houllier from his previous role as France's technical director.

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