Aston Villa last night moved back into 3rd place in the Premier League table after an impressive 2-0 victory at the Stadium of Light. Martin O’Neill’s men followed up a stunning away win at United on Saturday with a hard fought victory against Sunderland. It was the second clean sheet in 4 days for Villa, against another side whose home form has been outstanding this season, with Steve Bruce’s men having already beaten Liverpool and Arsenal at the Stadium of Light.
Villa look to be the side to break the top four this season and whilst Martin O’Neill is doing his best not to get carried away, he cannot deny that his side are playing well at the moment. O’Neill said:
“The result is the most important thing but the display was excellent as well. On the back of what was a very good win at Manchester United, this was a vital match for us and we’ve shown a lot of determination and ability to get a deserved win.”
It was a win that will also have repercussions for the mentality of other Premier League sides, placing pressure upon top four rivals Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom are in action tonight.
O’Neill has become an immensely popular character with the Villa Park faithful and it is easy to see why. The Irishman has done a remarkable job with the Midlands club and his success is often underrated. He has transformed Villa from a mid-table side into serious challengers to the monopoly that is the top four and he has done it without too much aid from Chairman Randy Lerner’s wallet. Whilst rivals Tottenham Hotspur and especially Manchester City have been breaking the bank to challenge for the Champions League spots, Martin O’Neill has made solid, shrewd signings, strengthening his squad at a pace that suits both him and the best interests of his side. He has re-invented the Aston Villa defence, bringing in one of the best keepers in the League and two centre backs that are the in-form pair in the league. Richard Dunne and James Collins cost just £11 million for the pair and they have been key in Villa’s solid defensive displays this season whilst also contributing vital goals having scored one each in the 2-1 victory over title favourites Chelsea.
In fact the only times in which O’Neill has paid a significant fee for a player have been in the cases of James Milner and Stewart Downing. The jury is still out on Downing yet he has made an impressive start to his Villa career since returning from injury and you get the sense that with quality players alongside him the ex-Middlesbrough winger could shine. When O’Neill paid £12 million for Milner in August 2008 I was flabbergasted, yet I have been made to eat my words and they have tasted good. Milner continued his stunning form last night, scoring a brilliant 30 yard drive, sealing his 3rd goal in 5 games. He has been instrumental and his versatility is invaluable to Villa having recently moved into the centre of midfield to accommodate for Downing. O’Neill last night spoke of Milner, saying:
“Milner has just been fantastic since he arrived at the football club, he has come into the middle of midfield now and he has just been colossal for us, colossal.”
It is no coincidence that the midfielders form and change of role in the side has coincided with three straight victories that have catapulted Villa into third in the table.
I wrote an article a few weeks back claiming that I didn’t believe Villa to have what it takes to break the top four this season, believing that Tottenham and Manchester City had the advantage with wallets to match the size of their ambition, however, I am quickly changing my mind. Villa may not spend like Spurs and City but what they do have is an in-form side that has been carefully constructed by a highly skilled manager. O’Neill looks to have done his best to prepare his side for the chase this season after the disappointment of the end to last year’s campaign. The job that the Irishman has done at Villa Park has been underrated and in my opinion O’Neill in general is not always given the accolades he deserves.
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