Football: Three-Headed Dragon Must Be Sent Packing; Chief Football Writer Hyder Jawad Hears Why the Next Two Weeks Are Crucial If Villa Are to Avoid the Relegation Battle
Byline: Hyder Jawad
A s a man who has appeared in one World Cup and is on the brink of playing in the European Championships, Thomas Sorensen is probably too good for one relegation battle, never mind two.
The Aston Villa and Denmark goalkeeper has learnt, to his cost, that club football is no respecter of international reputation. If it was, Sunderland would still be in the Premiership and Villa would be somewhere above halfway.
However, unless Villa show swift improvement, they will suffer the sort of indignity that made the 2002-03 campaign such a nightmare for Sorensen and for Sunderland.
No club is too big to endure relegation. Sunderland and West Ham United suffered last season, while even Manchester United lost their place in the top flight in 1974 --just seven seasons after being European champions.
Having experienced relegation, Sorensen knows better than most what is required to avoid it. Villa of this season are better than Sunderland of last, he says, but that will not necessarily be enough.
When Villa play Wolverhampton Wanderers at Villa Park tomorrow (noon), defeat is not an option.
'It is difficult to compare different situations, but I would say that we are better equipped to deal with this league position than we were at Sunderland last season,' Sorensen said. 'The team spirit is better in the camp, there is bigger belief, but this is where you have to turn it on.
'If you get beyond Christmas and you are still struggling to pick up points, suddenly that belief could fade away. That is why this period is so important. These next three games, against Wolves, Leeds and Blackburn, are massive.
'There are 12 teams in the Premiership at this stage who are in a relegation battle, who need a few more points. It is all about focusing on the next game, seeing how many points we have got after that, and taking it from there. 'If we can get six or seven points from the next three matches, it would make such a difference. Beating the teams who are near to us in the table is vital.'
Indeed, and Wolves will feel the same way. It would take something remarkable --a 6-0 victory for Wolves --to send Villa to the bottom of the table but, whatever happens, these are not comfortable times for Sorensen.
Even a reunion with Jody Craddock, the Wolves defender with whom he played at Sunderland, will not cushion the blow if Villa fail to win.
'Actually, I am looking forward to another derby match,' Sorensen said. 'Wolves have a couple of former Sunderland lads, so that makes it extra nice. This was always going to be an important match but, because of recent results, it is extra important for both teams.
'You would expect Wolves, as one of the promoted teams, to at least be fighting to stay up. But we said before the start of the season that we wanted to improve our league position.
'It is a must-win game, if we want to stay out of the battle, at home to a promoted team.
'We are not baffled at our league position. …