Martin O’Neill admits Aston Villa’s hopes of clinching a lucrative place in the Champions League hang by a thread after his side’s 3-3 draw against Everton.
Villa came from 3-1 down to salvage a point at Villa Park on Sunday, but they still finished disappointed at a result that leaves them eight points adrift of fourth placed Arsenal with only six games to play.
The Gunners also have a superior goal difference and O’Neill concedes Villa’s run of five games without a win has left them with little chance of catching Arsene Wenger’s team.
“Are we out of the Champions League? I would not disagree. I think we had to win to keep in touch. It is a result that suits Arsenal,” O’Neill said. “With Arsenal winning yesterday it will now be very hard, but we shouldn’t just give up the fight like that. Arsenal have some very tough games ahead, so have we, so we just have to go and win them and see what happens. I am not giving up, but it will be very hard.”
Everton would have had a slender chance of catching Arsenal with a win, but their late meltdown at Villa left boss David Moyes admitting they will probably have to settle for the soon to be revamped UEFA Cup.
“I think the Arsenal win against Wigan has made it very difficult for any of us to get there,” Moyes said. “If Villa had beaten us they would think they would still be in with a shout and if we had won, we would have not given up the chase. You don’t say never until it is mathematically impossible, but realistically it will be hard to get fourth place.”
“Aston Villa and Everton have tried hard to push the top boys this season, but have come up a little bit short,” Moyes said. “But given the players we have had missing this season, if we finish fifth or sixth it will be excellent for us. If you had given me that at the start of the season I would have taken it, especially with the players we’ve had missing.”
While O’Neill was frustrated by Villa’s failure to keep pace with Arsenal, he had no cause to criticize their spirit.
First half goals from Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill put Everton 2-0 up before John Carew pulled one back for Villa.
When Steven Pienaar restored Everton’s two-goal lead early in the second half it looked all over, but James Milner scored with a superb free-kick to give Villa hope.
Gareth Barry equalized from the penalty spot in the 66th minute after Joleon Lescott’s high challenge on Stiliyan Petrov.
“I thought we were fantastic going forward, although defensively we were not so clever,” O’Neill said.
“But we showed tremendous character and determination when 2-0 and 3-1 down and the fans were fantastic towards us,” he said.
Moyes felt referee Howard Webb’s penalty decision was harsh on Lescott.
“I thought it might have been an indirect free-kick because all Joleon has done is put his foot up to try and get the ball,” Moyes said.