Club Focus – Aston Villa – The perfect three for O’Neill

Aston Villa’s three-goal victory over Hull City on Saturday capped off an excellent week for Martin O’Neill’s men with their second consecutive win.

The victory means they find themselves in fifth place in the Premier League with another opportunity to pursue a top four finish. The game proved that the Villans are just as capable in defence as they are in attack, and Villa have the third best defensive record in the Premier League, behind Chelsea and Manchester United.

O’Neill, just as he did in midweek, opted to play Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing together. However, this time it was Milner who was to play in the centre of midfield, alongside Stiliyan Petrov. His new position never once affected his performance and the England international showed his versatility and creativity throughout. On 13 minutes, Milner showed great vision to pick out Richard Dunne with a beautiful ball, just before Dunne fired home his third of the season. Milner then scored the second of the match with a superb lifted shot into an unguarded net after Stoke City goalkeeper, Matt Duke, was punished for his decision to leave his area to put the ball out for a throw. Steve Sidwell – who was warming up at the side of the pitch – was quick to throw the ball to Gabriel Agbonlahor who found Milner.

Not only has Milner increased his chance of being picked for the England 2010 World Cup Squad, he has proved that he can play almost anywhere on the park and perhaps O’Neill has found Milner’s most effective position. Whilst Stewart Downing provided that much-needed balance on the left, Milner was Villa’s architect, showing that he is an indispensable member of the Villa squad – a view shared by his manager: “That’s the second game he’s played in central midfield and it was though he’s played there all his career. He has great spirit and his goal just about summed up his performance. The great thing about him is his versatility and I believe Capello will find that essential. I’ll be absolutely delighted if James and the other lads are on the plane.”

The Villans began the game the better team and they were rampant upfront with Luke Young and Emile Heskey nearly putting Villa 2-0 up after 10 minutes. Their performance warranted more goals but after the break complacency was evident in the Villa side. Nevertheless, the Villans eventually got their final goal when Ashley Young was brought down in the penalty area by Duke. Having not been successful from the spot this season, it was John Carew to take the role of the spot taker after Agbonlahor, Milner and Young had missed in previous games. Carew duly converted Villa’s third goal of the match which well and truly killed off the tie.

Despite Martin O’Neill’s early Christmas gift of three points, the Villans have one of the toughest, if not the toughest December period. Next week they are away to Manchester United at Old Trafford – a match that will either elevate or deflate Villa’s current form. This game is followed by two more tricky away fixtures against Sunderland and Arsenal, as well as two home games against Stoke City and Liverpool. In effect, the Villans will play three of teams that finished in the top four of the league last season in the space of 17 days. These fixtures are a chance for Villa to highlight their top four credentials with the determination and mentality to gain points out of these matches. They will always show the extent of Villa’s depth or show that O’Neill will not be able to field the same squad in such a compact fixture list.

Another win means another three points for the Villans and, just as they have been doing all season, they have answered their critics with an almost faultless performance against Hull. The main aim for O’Neill’s men now is to achieve that much-needed consistency to compete with the likes of Tottenham and Manchester City who both have games in hand to leapfrog Villa.

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