Martin O’Neill recently announced that he would support the controversial proposal for a play-off for the fourth Champions League place. The play-off system would mean that the teams that have finished from fourth to seventh would play each other for the desirable spot, instead of the privilege going to fourth place.
It is difficult to see if O’Neill is being realistic about his chances of finishing fourth this season after finishing sixth in two consecutive years or if he just in favour of a proposal which will certainly benefit his side in seasons to come. Currently, the Villans occupy seventh spot in the league, and with a game in hand, a run of good results for Villa and slip-ups for the others may see another change in this competitive challenge. The Northern Irishman said: “It’s quite interesting. I wouldn’t knock it immediately, particularly if we finish seventh in the league.”
With Liverpool and Manchester City and both dropping points on Sunday, the Villans can savour their 5-2 thrashing of Burnley and they could possibly be in pole position when they play their game in hand. In recent weeks, the team has been overlooked in debates about who will finish fourth. It has been said that even though they have the best defensive record, goals at the other end have been infrequent. They have also been criticised for a lack of a clinical goal-scorer with the creative midfielders failing to have much of an impact.
In spite of this, as Villa have been doing all season, they answered their critics with the display at Villa Park on Saturday. Despite starting off poorly with Burnley snatching the opening goal, Ashley Young’s equaliser from an intended cross certainly woke up the players in the Villa squad and after half time they were a rejuvenated side. Stewart Downing added a second just after half time after connecting to an Ashley Young cross and slotting past Brian Jensen. Downing got his second after Jensen had previously saved Gabriel Agbonlahor’s one-to-one effort. Agbonlahor’s pace was too much for the Burnley defenders after that and he sent an inviting cross along the box which Emile Heskey got on the end of and put the Villans 4-1 up. For the fifth, it was James Milner’s low ball that reached Agbonlahor who smashed home.
Martin O’Neill was not too impressed by his side’s start to the game but their reaction after half time pleased him: “We started pretty slowly, and to come from behind in a game where expectations of winning were very high is pleasing,” The Northern Irishman then added: “The spell in the second half was great – the movement, but especially the finishing, which hasn’t been our strongest point this season.” The scoreline could have certainly been far worse for Brian Laws’ side as the Villans constantly pressed and John Carew could have made it six after his scuffed shot went wide of the target. Villa showed much more penetration and intention of winning in the second half and throughout the pitch they made 237 successful passes out of 310. The most important thing to note is that five of these were assists which led to the five goals. Villa’s willingness to put the ball into the box was the main reason they won on the weekend. Burnley were unable to defend crosses and Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing took advantage of this and goals were the result.
O’Neill now looks towards the FA Cup fifth-round replay against Crystal Place on Wednesday and he will face the difficult decision on who to play and who to rest in anticipation of the Carling Cup final on Sunday. It is an extremely important week for the Birmingham-based side, but Young and Downing in particular ensured that it began on winning terms.