Aston Villa squad of the century: The goalkeepers
The first two decades of the 21st century were largely a case of what might have been for Villa.
Yet throughout the journey, the ups and downs, Villa have been served by some excellent players who, had they all been together at the same time, would have formed a team strong enough to regularly challenge for major honours.
With that in mind, the Express & Star’s online readers have been helping to compile the club’s squad of the century so far.
A total of 23 players have been selected and over the next few days we will be sharing the results, starting with the goalkeepers.
There should be no mystery as to who the most popular goalkeeper of the last 20 years was among Villa supporters.
Brad Friedel was part of the strongest Villa XI of the century so far, who for much of the 2008/09 season looked on course to secure Champions League qualification.
The American’s arrival from Blackburn for a £2million fee in July 2008 was the culmination of a two-year search by boss Martin O’Neill to find an upgrade on the solid but out-of-favour Thomas Sorenson.
Friedel had spent more than a decade in English football and turned 37 a couple of months before joining Villa.
But his performances during a three-year stay with the club proved age is just a number.
A fine shot-stopper, the strength of Friedel’s game lay in his consistency and decision-making which meant errors were extremely rare. Recognised as a leader in the dressing room, he featured in almost every supporter’s squad and is the clear No.1 in ours.
Backing up Friedel are two keepers who bookended the opening two decades of the century.
David James arrived in the summer of 1999 in a £1.7million deal from Liverpool, having been identified by manager John Gregory as the ideal replacement for Manchester United-bound Mark Bosnich.
Still aged only 28, James had no shortage of experience having made 277 appearances for the Reds, yet he still joined Villa with his career in need of a kickstart after a series of high-profile mistakes saw him fall out of favour at Anfield.
His first season at Villa Park certainly provided that, even though it ended on a low note when his error allowed Roberto Di Matteo to score the only goal of the 2000 FA Cup final.
That said, it is unlikely Villa would have even been playing in that match were it not for James’s heroics in the semi-final shoot out win over Bolton.
Blessed with superb agility, he would make 85 appearances for Villa before joining West Ham for £3.5million in 2001.
The third and final goalkeeper in our squad has needed only 20 appearances to convince Villa supporters of his talent.
Tom Heaton became the club's most expensive-ever goalkeeper signing when he joined in an £8million move from Burnley last August.
But after a summer where the overall success of Villa's total £127million outlay remains under scrutiny, Heaton's capture can only be seen as something of a bargain.
The affable 34-year-old brought leadership and some much-needed Premier League experience to Dean Smith's new-look squad.
His ability, meanwhile, was clear from the opening day performance at Tottenham. Barring a rush of blood to the head in the opening seconds of his home debut against Bournemouth, when he conceded a penalty, Heaton frequently brought calm to proceedings.
Losing him to a season-ending knee injury on New Year's Day was a considerable blow to Villa’s survival hopes.
Though he has not yet been at the club for a year, Heaton featured in the majority of fan squad selections we received.
The men who missed out
There is no place in our squad for the two goalkeepers who have made the most appearances for Villa since the turn of the century.
Brad Guzan (170 appearances) and Thomas Sorenson (158 appearances) both received nominations, though not enough to force their way in.
Denmark international Sorenson, who was Villa’s No.1 for four seasons from 2003 to 2007, was the next most popular behind the top three.
Guzan, who spent eight years with the club between 2008 and 2016, is less fondly remembered though the American, who took over as No.1 in 2012, has perhaps paid the price for his association with the 2015-16 relegation squad.
Peter Schmeichel, Sam Johnstone, Shay Given and Jed Steer were among the other keepers to appear in fan squads.