Aston Villa's manager, Alex McLeish, has pinpointed the need to supply the England striker Darren Bent with better service if the club are to turn around their disappointing run this season.
Villa's 1-0 home defeat by Manchester United on Saturday has left the club with a record of P14 W3 D7 L4 this season –matching precisely that of Birmingham City last season, the team McLeish managed before switching to Villa after Blues were relegated.
McLeish said "I'm not a quitter" after Villa's latest setback when his side were booed off at Villa Park on Saturday and insisted he is focused on providing better service to Bent. The England forward has touched the ball on average only 24.6 times per game this season, a figure that makes him comfortably the Premier League player with the fewest touches this season.
Worryingly for McLeish, Bent's strike partner Gabriel Agbonlahor is also in the bottom 10 for fewest touches this season with an average of 39 per game but it is making more use of Bent that is at the forefront of the manager's plans.
"He does make great movement, it's just a pity that sometimes we don't have quite the quality to see the runs and his movement," said McLeish.
"It's not easy, I'm just juggling the balls and asking for players to give me outstanding performances to stay in this team. We're looking for horses for courses every week now rather than saying: ' I can't leave him out.'
"There's seven out of 10 but we're looking for nines, eights or nines, and any of the midfielders that are ready to do that will be in this team. We created 10 chances in the Norwich game and he [Bent] got a couple of goals and could have had another couple so we are capable of doing it depending on our personnel.
"I've watched a couple of games from last season and Bent only had one chance in the Man City game, his debut, and scored so he was starved of service that night as well but the guy only needs one chance and he could have been rolled in by Emile [Heskey] and it may have been different.
"We've got to plug away. [Gabriel] Agbonlahor in the game last week had more efforts on goal than Bent but sometimes it will happen that way, we can't just rely on Bent to score us the goals. Gabby has been fantastic this season and we look for the kid to retain his consistency and to be an even bigger threat than he has been and obviously [Charles] N'Zogbia, guys like Mark Albrighton, who I thought did really well in the second half, to come to the fore also."
McLeish accepts Villa's form has not been good enough – the team were not only canned off at full-time on Saturday but left the field at half-time to a chorus of boos – but he is adamant that he will not be forced out by fan power.
"I'm not going to criticise the fans," he said. "You know how difficult it was for me coming here in the first place and I've just got to persevere. As I've told you guys, I'm not a quitter and I'll go as far as I can to get this club turned around. But you know where you have to improve the quality, we have to make sure we defend with concentration and we've got to be a threat in the last third."
Of the team's performance against the champions, he said: "We didn't pass it well, gave the ball away willy-nilly. I don't think we really believed in ourselves. Fans did not like it. I wasn't particularly keen on it either. I was in unison with the fans on that one and the second half was better and they went right to the very end which I would have demanded of every team I've coached or managed. We got that."
McLeish admitted he might need to ask the chairman, Randy Lerner, to make funds available to bolster his squad in January. "Yes, that will be a fact. But, as I said, we've still got to try and trade carefully. But if we need emergencies, we have to seriously consider that as a club."
McLeish has one prominent supporter in the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who gave him some advice after Saturday's match. "He just said: 'You've got to keep going,'" said McLeish. "He said a few other things which will remain private but he said they were sweating a bit at the death after our second half."
Meanwhile, Aston Villa say Charles N'Zogbia is in contention to play against Bolton on Saturday, after the Frenchman was omitted from Alex McLeish's squad for the weekend defeat by Manchester United on disciplinary grounds.
N'Zogbia was punished – also reportedly by way of a fine – after failing to report for treatment on an injury last week. Villa confirmed that he returned to training on Monday, and may now feature at Bolton.
McLeish has now sought to draw a line under the affair. Villa's manager said: "Charles has to take it on the chin and show us the great player he can be. The players know we have got club rules and we will adhere to them.
"There are no grudges. I just want to see the boy go to another level. I think he can improve on what he has done before. We are looking to guys like Charles to come to the fore. Charles has got to be receptive and realise I want to help him and every single player at this club."
N'Zogbia has also shown remorse. He said: "My mind is focused on preparing for the game on Saturday at Bolton and I will train hard, as normal.
"I have spoken to the manager, he has dealt with it and we have no problem. We are in this together, so we just move on. I will work hard to get back in the team. I want to show the fans of Aston Villa what I can do for them and for the team and that will be my objective on Saturday."
N'Zogbia, who arrived in the Midlands from Wigan Athletic in the summer, was infamously branded "Charles Insomnia" by then-Newcastle manager Joe Kinnear during an earlier spell at St James's Park.