Club Focus – Aston Villa – O’Neill eager to retain England forward

The Villans will have to wait until January 20 to pursue their Carling Cup quest after the big freeze postponed both semi-final ties. Although Villa have been unable to carry on the momentum from their latest victory against Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn Rovers, Martin O’Neill and his players will be thankful for some much needed time off in such a packed fixture list.

With the freezing conditions stopping British football almost in its tracks, it has been the perfect time for transfer speculation to rise to the forefront of the Press’ priorities. For Villa, instead of stories regarding potential arrivals, it has been about the possible departure of Emile Heskey to Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea. When questioned on Heskey’s situation, O’Neill seemed determined to try and keep hold of his striker: “I couldn’t give you any guarantees about anything but we are in a situation here where I want to keep the players who are making an impact at the football club. And I think Emile in the last number of weeks has been really excellent for us.”

With only three senior strikers, it cannot be denied that Heskey is an indispensable member to the Villa squad and despite not featuring in many games at the start of the season, Heskey has proved to be O’Neill’s first choice partner to Gabriel Agbonlahor in recent weeks. The England forward has only got five goals to his name this season – a statistic that has made some question his worth. However, evidence through his contribution for club and country, Heskey brings a wealth of other, less celebrated qualities. The burley England international is a team player who gets the best out of the players around him. When he plays alongside Agbonlahor, he creates space for his strike partner and as a result Agbonlahor is able to run into space and at defenders. This is one reason why Heskey looks likely to be the man to partner Wayne Rooney upfront in the England squad that travels to South Africa in the summer. His positioning and ability to hold up the ball are key aspects to his game and when he is presented with a chance on goal, he rarely disappoints. To get the most out of his game, Heskey needs to be supplied with more balls from the wider areas so he can utilise his height to meet crosses with his head.

From one player whose future at the club is uncertain to another who is keen to remain at the club in the search of silverware. Richard Dunne, who is still recovering from the heartache of the Republic of Ireland’s failure to qualify for the World Cup Finals, is fully determined to play a huge part in Villa’s attempt to win the Carling Cup. He went as far as to label the semi-finals against Blackburn as “the biggest game of my career”. If this hunger for success is shared throughout the dressing room, it could be a huge factor in their potential success. However, when clubs are in this position it becomes very easy for the players to become sidetracked and can affect league performances as a result.

The match away to Wigan has been given the all clear for Saturday and the Villans will want to begin another run of good form with a victory at the DW Stadium. O’Neill was ambivalent towards the postponement of Villa’s Carling Cup semi-final as he lamented that “January was going to be pretty hectic anyway and it looks as though it is going to continue for some time.” Villa will need to stay injury free to get through what could prove to be a difficult month. With one of the smaller squads in the top half of the Premier League, the Birmingham-based club will look to keep their squad intact, while adding a few fresh faces to a team that has ambitions to gatecrash the big four.

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