By Brian Doogan
Matt Lowton has been ever-present in Villa's starting line-up in the Barclays Premier League this season, combining elegance and reliability, an accomplished range of passing and a determined, steadfast work ethic, the ability to set up a goal with the kind of consummate cross which Christian Benteke converted against Everton at Goodison Park and the ability to finish, as he did with a left-footed volley against Swansea on a bright, balmy September day.
That he scored his debut goal in front of the Holte End on his mum Lisa's birthday, with almost two dozen family and friends congregated in the stands, only deepened his sense of pride and feeling of belonging to his new club. When players acknowledge the fans at the end of a game, invariably, Lowton is among the last to walk back down the tunnel.
Frustration, hurt, a nagging hint of melancholy were all etched on his face as he approached the away dressing room at the end of Saturday's game at the Emirates. Arsenal had prevailed but only after Santi Cazorla scored a late winner and a lot of good work by the visiting team was, in an instant, undone.
His defiant, upbeat demeanour as he spoke at the Bodymoor Heath Training Ground has typified the general mood this week. The team's form over the past several games has been good, he insisted, and the admission by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger that his team was fortunate to secure all three points emphasised the Gunners' keen appreciation of how they had been made to fight.
With 11 games remaining, there is plenty of fight in Lowton and his team-mates and, in the grim struggle for survival that does not exclude West Ham and even Newcastle on 30 points, the Villa right back believes that a resolute core belief and a strong, enduring trust in one another will underpin the team's efforts to climb out of the bottom three.
"We've shown we can do it in a number of games recently and we believe very strongly that we can," Lowton declared. "We've got to stay positive, we've got to make sure we go out every game and start it right because the quality will come through.
"There is a really positive attitude within the group and everyone is confident to get on the ball and to do what they know they can do.
"That attitude was in evidence at the Emirates and in the game against West Ham, also against Everton at Goodison Park and in the second half against Newcastle when we got in their faces and didn't let them settle after starting the game poorly. We closed people down and it gave us an opportunity to salvage something from the game, though we fell just short. We knew we had to do that against Everton and we did it well. It was a shame in the end we couldn't hang on for the win there after being two goals up when Christian scored the third.
"But everyone is very upbeat. We can take a lot from our performance again on Saturday. The quality came through after we worked really hard to stop them playing and we scored a good goal ourselves.
"We're in a battle and we know we have to battle right to the end. We've got to make sure we play every game as best we can to give ourselves the best opportunity.
"To come off unhappy at Goodison Park and at the Emirates shows you how well we played in both those games. It's a reflection on how we've played and how we've applied ourselves. We know that we've got to get out of the blocks firing and get the crowd on our side so that we can push on and, if we do this, we can genuinely take on any team.
"The goals we've scored have all been good goals. We've continued to pass the ball and we've continued to work hard for one another. It's very much a collective thing. "A lot of players have been playing well - Charles [N'Zogbia] has been on fire just lately. He's been getting on the ball a lot and the positivity he's been showing when he's getting on the ball, committing defenders and taking them on, it's been great. We've been seeing that from other players as well, like the big man up. Christian can score goals, so you stay positive because you know that at any time we can get a goal.
"We just have to shore it up at the back and be a bit stronger. We've done a lot of work on the training ground trying to stop crosses and then defending crosses. All the time you keep working. It's something only we can put right and grow stronger and together.
"But we have the trust in one another from the training ground and in matches that we can get out of it. You trust your team-mate that if you give him the ball he is going to go and do something with it. We're dangerous when we attack all the time and, like I've said, we've scored a lot of goals. We have real attacking threat and that makes us dangerous against any team we go and play."
Ultimately, the performances of the team will determine its fate but the level of support from the fans has been inspiring. Lowton's family and friends have been regular attenders at Villa Park and also on the team's travels. It is through them and the passion generated both home and away by the claret-and-blue faithful that the 23-year-old defender's motivation is sustained.
"The fans have been fantastic and the atmosphere they're able to generate really does drive you forward," Lowton emphasised. "It gives you an extra yard and makes your stride that little bit longer. There might be a ball running out of play but with that extra adrenaline the crowd is giving you, you may keep it in.
"We've got to give it back to the fans to keep them on our side. Like the gaffer says, it's a two-way thing. We've got to start games well, win our tackles, win our headers, get them on our side and then hopefully they can help push us through.
"If we were able to take the last 10 minutes away from games, I wonder how many points we'd have. We've been ahead in a lot of games but we've ended up dropping points. But we can't have any regrets. There is no point in looking back now. We've got 11 massive games from now to the end of the season and we've got to make sure we get out of the blocks and get ahead and we have to be strong enough to go on and get the wins.
"We're improving all the time. Even in games you pick up things here and there and with the gaffer speaking to you. I think I've improved no end since the first game of the season and I think that's the same for everyone. We're all confident when we have the ball and we have the confidence that we're going to score goals.
"We've been together two thirds of a season now and we've looked better the last number of games. We know we're the only team that can get us out of it - we can't rely on other teams to lose points. We've got to pick up points and we have a lot of chances still to make sure we do that. We have pace and power in our team and, if we get it together, we can put together the results we need."
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