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Watching Ashley Young With Manchester United

In the past three years, Aston Villa have lost four of the most talented midfielders the club has had in recent memory -- and the loss of each has produced a different reaction in most fans. Many supporters want James Milner back, showing off his talents in central midfield week in, week out, rather than being a "valued squad member" playing wide at Manchester City. Gareth Barry, on the other hand, is deemed a traitor, a club captain who left when money was waved under his nose. The disgust felt for Stewart Downing might overshadow the hatred for Custard Pants, however. Downing was with Villa a paltry two years, giving us a decent season just once. He talked up his desire to stay with the club before running off to Liverpool the moment it was mentioned. Downing, fortunately, will be the easiest to replace, once Charles N'Zogbia settles in, or is moved back to the left wing.

As for Ashley Young, well, by all accounts Villa fans should hate him, after he refused to negotiate a new contract and went off to Manchester United. Yet Young gave the club four solid years, years in which he perhaps wasn't as spectacular as he could have been, but was easily the best player in claret and blue. He never raised our hopes with false promises of staying. And he went to a team with whom he could win, and where he could raise his international stature. Clearly, it's working out for Ash:

Watching him play for United, I don't feel hatred, only regret that he's gone. But in this case, it's what he genuinely needed to do to raise his game. He didn't leave for money, although that certainly must have helped. He didn't move to a club whose best hope is likely fourth place. Sure, we had to endure over a year of the rumored move, but it never meant Young tugging at our heartstrings or promising devotion to the club. If he can flourish under Sir Alex, more power to him -- as long as he doesn't score against the Villa.

The question becomes, then, not whether to hate Ash, but what on earth Villa will do to replace him. As much as watchers of the Villa - Wolves broadcast got their hackles raised by Ian Darke's accusations of a lack of creativity in the squad, the man has a bit of a point. Playing Emile Heskey behind Darren Bent is never going to lead to anything clever; Stiliyan Petrov in midfield is about as predictable as the sun rising in the morning. We may no longer have Ash, but there are certainly better lineups that Alex McLeish could be putting out to compensate for that absence. Play Barry Bannan. Shift Gabriel Agbonlahor into the middle, put Blazing Roaches back on the left, and use Marc Albrighton on the right. If non-Sir Alex doesn't start trying something new soon, this could be the McLeish we all feared when he took the job.