WHEN ASTON VILLA lost narrowly to Manchester City in February, they found themselves two points from mid-table, seven clear of relegation.
Not a great position to be in, but it was only to get worse.
In the 91st minute of that game Richard Dunne flung himself at a cross from a corner.
One last show of desperation, an effort to prove that City should never have let him leave. Joe Hart’s fist reached the ball before Dunne’s head.
The referee would award a free kick, but the collision had kicked Dunne’s legs up and his entire weight crash-landed on his shoulder. Crack.
Yesterday, the crowd gathered around Ireland’s ‘Iron Curtain’ want to know if he was distraught, if he thought his European Championships were over, “No, I was just going; ‘this is sore’.”
Understatement, there’s been little room for that when watching Dunne’s performances these past few years. His display for Ireland in Moscow was the improbable stuff of comic books (Richard of the Rovers is our working title) and since he broke his collarbone, Villa have been in steady decline.
In the 10 games which the Dubliner has missed, Alex McLeish’s side have tasted victory only once. Following Tuesday’s home defeat to Bolton, the Trotters, currently occupying 18th, are within three points of Villa with a game in hand.
Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
Dunne feels it is not only his absence, but the scarcity of other experienced players which has made Alex McLeish’s side look like a group about to slip meekly into the Championship.
“It’s not going great,” he said when asked about the predicament, “It’s been a tough season for us, the amount of injuries has not helped us and it seems to be all the experienced players who got injured.
“You just have to get on with it. We’ve three games left and it’s still in our own hands so we can hopefully sort it out ourselves.”
“With injuries and the illness to Stan it’s been one of those seasons, but hopefully in three weeks time we’ll still be Premier League team.”
With McLeish the target of supporter outrage on Tuesday, Dunne was keen to defend the Scot, citing the exit of key players over recent seasons as a problem few clubs could overcome.
“It’s very hard for us, because we’ve sold our best players at the end of each season” He lamented, “It’s hard for any manager to come in and make a team out of it. We’ve probably sold England’s midfield with Barry, Milner, Downing and Young going. It’s hard but that’s the way the club is at the moment, the wage bill has to be cut and things need to be done.”
Dunne would later add that the young ‘kids’ like Nathan Baker and Chris Herd, who Villa have had to rely on, are not yet equipped with the necessities for such a dogged battle:
“The lads at our club have always won their leagues, reserve leagues and cup. So they’re used to success. To be coming into a team that’s struggling it’s tough for them and they just need that bit of support around them.”
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The sooner, Dunne returns the better for Villa. Before the interview is over he will pull the collar of his polo shirt to one side and reveal the scar straddling the right side of his collarbone.
After nursing the problem for so long, he admits trepidation in putting his shoulder back into action, he will have a metal pin embedded for the remainder of his career and has been running into rugby tackle bags to rebuild confidence. But nothing matches the real thing:
“It’s in your mind that it’s sore, but basically I just need somebody to run up behind me and smack me in it, then I’ll know.”
Finding a volunteer will not be easy.