Aston Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner has called for unity ahead of their game against Saints this weekend after the club’s fourth consecutive defeat left them in the thick of the Premier League relegation battle.

Frustration is growing among the Villa faithful after defeat at Crystal Palace left them just four points clear of the drop-zone with five games to play.

Villa must now put the discontent aside and focus on the build-up to Saturday’s crucial home clash with Saints – and Faulkner believes the fans can play a vital role.

Faulkner said: “Four games ago, on the back of two good home wins, we were looking up the table and feeling confident of a strong, positive finish to the season.

“Since then we have suffered four consecutive defeats and that is hard to take. We are hurting. Fans are hurting, players and the manager are hurting. The frustration is shared by everyone who loves Aston Villa.

“Now more than ever it’s time for us all to pull together – fans, players, the manager, everyone at the club. Our immediate focus and combined efforts need to be concentrated on our game against Southampton this weekend and on our remaining games of the season.”

Villa looked set for a fine end to a difficult campaign when they followed up their 4-1 thrashing of Norwich with a superb 1-0 win over Chelsea at Villa Park last month.

But one week later Paul Lambert’s men were humbled in a 4-1 defeat at Stoke and subsequent losses to Manchester United – also 4-1 – Fulham and Palace have left them back on the brink of the bottom three.