Martin O’Neill heads into a crunch phase in Aston Villa’s season hoping his young stars can continue their excellent progression with an FA Cup victory at Everton today.
O’Neill is far too canny to admit it publicly, but he must be aware that he faces a crucial seven days as Villa battle to land a top-four finish in the Premier League and win the FA and UEFA Cups.
Villa kick off their week of destiny with the tough FA Cup fifth-round trip to Goodison Park, before facing CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Cup on Wednesday.
O’Neill will then present new Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink with his first Premier League test in a monumental clash at Villa Park next Sunday.
“Here we are in mid-February, involved in three competitions. This time in a fortnight we might be in one,” O’Neill said. “That’s something I’ve been used to as a player in the past and I think that it can happen. I love the FA Cup and we’ve managed for the first time in a year or two to get past the third round. But with the Premier League being the holy grail, that’s where we’ve got momentum going and that would be pretty important to us. In really big games now this gives an opportunity to players to step up and that’s all I can ask.”
O’Neill’s preparations for the game at Goodison Park have been disrupted by the potential loss of England international striker Emile Heskey.
The Villa boss is ready to demand an explanation from England coach Fabio Capello as to why Heskey was pressed into international duty for the friendly against Spain. Heskey played the first half in Seville despite suffering with an Achilles injury and is now struggling to be fit for today’s match. The striker was substituted in Villa’s win at Blackburn Rovers last weekend and O’Neill insists he made his concerns clear to Capello and his medical staff before Wednesday’s friendly.
“I was surprised he played,” O’Neill said. “I have spoken to the England doctor and obviously voiced some concerns there, and I will also speak to the management team. It’s a friendly game at the end of it all. I could understand it if it was a qualifying game.”
“He actually had a problem with it and you would have thought that rest this particular week was the order of the day,” he said. “But England deemed him fit to play in the game. Emile must have thought he was fit himself. From that view point it would be hard to put up a complete argument, but I was surprised that he was selected.”
Everton could be boosted by the return of Louis Saha, the France international, for this weekend. Saha has not played since he was stretchered off during the 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur on Nov. 30 with a hamstring problem. It was initially hoped Saha would only spend two to three weeks on the sidelines, but further scans showed he had suffered serious damage to the muscle.
Results, of course, have not suffered during the Frenchman’s absence, but Moyes is eager to get Saha back involved today as Marouane Fellaini is out with a small crack in a bone in his back.
On-loan Manchester City striker Jo is cup-tied and midfielder Steven Pienaar is suspended.