Randy Lerner has broken his silence on the prospect of Aston Villa being taken over this summer by issuing a statement that offers the clearest indication yet that the American is ready to sell up. Responding to reports that a takeover at Villa Park is on the agenda, Lerner made no attempt to deny the speculation and instead painted a picture of a man whose days at the club are coming to an end.
The Guardian reported last week that sources inside, as well as outside the club, had become aware that Lerner, who bought Villa in 2006, was poised to sell. It is also understood that Paul Lambert, the Villa manager, has been told that he must prepare to work with new owners. Although club officials had insisted before the Southampton game that there was no truth to suggestions Lerner was looking to get out, the man in control of that decision declined the chance to go on the record with that view.
Lerner's statement was all about the short term, focusing on the here and now and offering no assurances about the future. He praised the way that Lambert has coped with a lengthy injury list and the financial constraints imposed on him, commented on the takeover stories without dismissing them, and stressed the importance of finishing the season well – any takeover would be dependent on Villa staying up. Clarity on his own position, he said, would have to wait until the end of the season.
"Following the point yesterday at Villa Park, there have been stories about my selling the club," Lerner said. "On a personal level, I had hoped the emphasis would have been on the amazing effort on the part of our manager and our players to regroup throughout a very difficult week. Injuries to Libor [Kozak] and Christian [Benteke], compounded with the early loss of Jores [Okore] and the difficult rehab of Charles [N'Zogbia] have no doubt left Paul with far less to work with than is fair. Still, Paul Lambert has done nothing but work within the parameters I've set, put the club first and continue to trust his players.
"As regards my personal role at the club and the steady rumours of a sale, I will address these after the season. Paul Lambert, Paul Faulkner [the chief executive] and I speak daily and remain committed to the immediate job of limiting distraction and confusion in order that Villa have the best chance possible of finishing on a strong note."
Lambert's future as Villa manager – already a matter of debate – will come under renewed scrutiny. Speaking after this banal goalless draw, he claimed to be in the dark when asked about a takeover and, perhaps understandably, said that he was not going to lose any sleep worrying about the potential ramifications when the club remain in a relegation battle. Asked how he would view his own position in the event of a takeover, Lambert said: "Listen, if a new guy comes in and doesn't like you … it's not something I've ever thought about. I just want this club to stay in this league."
Sixth from bottom and five points clear of the bottom three with four games to play, Villa should stagger over the finish line, but this was another game that highlighted the size of the task. Against a Southampton side eighth in the table and with nothing to play for, Villa registered only one shot on target, when Marc Albrighton's 25-yard effort was held by Artur Boruc in the 63rd minute, and enjoyed just 32% of possession. The one criticism of Southampton would be that, for all their neat passing and approach play, especially in the first half, Mauricio Pochettino's side lacked a cutting edge.
Villa were also thankful that Lee Mason, the referee, waved away Southampton's penalty appeals late on when Nathaniel Clyne's cross struck Ryan Bertrand on the hand. "As I crossed it, I saw him slap the ball with his hand. It was a definite penalty," Clyne said. "The ref didn't give it but I'm surprised about that because the linesman should have had a good view of it."
Man of the match Steven Davis (Southampton)