McLEISH HAS HIGH RESPECT FOR O'NEILL
Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish admits following on from the Martin O'Neill era has "been a big act to follow" ahead of Saturday's home Barclays Premier League clash with Sunderland.
O'Neill will return to Villa Park with the Black Cats for the first time since quitting as Villa boss five days before the start of the 2010-11 campaign.
The Irishman led Villa to three successive top-six finishes in the Premier League, a Carling Cup final and FA Cup semi-final in his four years at the helm.
When asked what reception O'Neill can expect from the Villa fans, McLeish said: "We want the crowd reception to be 100% behind Aston Villa and to give players the shot of adrenalin that can help them.
"That was the case in recent games against Chelsea and Stoke. We need them again in these games coming up.
"I'm sure the fans respect what Martin did, sixth position, a cup final, a European excursion.
"That is why it is difficult for them just now and the last couple of seasons, because we have got a big act to follow."
McLeish, who managed Rangers when O'Neill was in charge of Celtic, added: "I'm not saying Martin and I are bosom buddies from years gone by but I've got great respect for him.
"He has had a fantastic career as a manager and I'm still looking to get that kind of status he has got."
McLeish preferred not to become involved in why O'Neill opted to leave Villa so close to the start of a campaign.
He said: "In terms of Martin leaving Villa, nothing surprises me in football. I guess that's what keeps you guys (the media) going every week, when there is a wee bit of controversy.
"Martin left, it wasn't any of my business, it was between him and Villa, and he chose to do that. That is his prerogative."
McLeish did admit he is still picking up the pieces of the departure of many of the experienced players of the O'Neill era.
But he has faith in the younger players he has had to blood this season.
He said: "There are a lot of quality players who have left the club since Martin left and maybe just before he left.
"That is why I said our squad at the start of the season lacked a bit of experience - and you pray the experienced players stay fit.
"It has certainly not worked out that way and a lot of young players have been forced into action maybe before their time a little bit.
"But at the same time there is great mentality amongst them and they've been taught well by the academy guys and showed the desire and commitment I would require from footballers.
"Do I wish I had the money O'Neill spent at Villa? Maybe one day. Maybe one day. It is not something I've been used to as a manager. That is something I will one day look forward to."
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