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O'Neill stands by Villa rotation

Martin O'Neill
O'Neill was pleased with the showing of his young players in Moscow

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has defended his decision to field a weakened side against CSKA Moscow in the Uefa Cup on Thursday.

O'Neill chose to omit eight regulars from the line-up and instead fielded a number of reserves and youngsters.

Villa were beaten 2-0 in the Russian capital and as a result were eliminated from the competition 3-1 on aggregate.

"I'm disappointed but I made the decisions at the time and I have to stick by it," said O'Neill.

"Three games in six days does take its toll and it's important to look at the bigger picture.

"The owner has entrusted me to make these decisions and for better or worse I have done so."

Gareth Barry, Brad Friedel, Emile Heskey, James Milner, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Carlos Cuellar and Stiliyan Petrov were all absent from the Villa side.

They are currently fourth in the Premier League, six points ahead of fifth-place Arsenal, and O'Neill has prioritised achieving a Champions League spot ahead of trying to win the Uefa Cup.

"We've a lot of playing to do, we've done a lot of playing, and I honestly think these experiences will stand us in good stead if we do it all again," he said.

"I hope European football will be a more regular feature at Villa Park and we are able to cope with big demands in the fashion that the top four sides have to in February, March and April time."

O'Neill was sympathetic towards the 300 Villa fans who made the journey to Moscow and said he and his side would aim to compensate them on the pitch for any dissatisfaction they may have felt.

Villa plan to thank those supporters by inviting them to a dinner hosted by O'Neill later in the season.

"I'd hope at some stage or another in the course of the next season we'd make it up to those people," he said.

"I think the 300 fans who travelled, who spent good money, in many aspects might be buoyed by the performance of the younger kids.

It's a real shame though that football has evolved to such a situation where a Champion's League spot takes priority over winning trophies.

Dave Woodhall, Heroes and Villains fanzine editor

"You're looking at little Barry Bannan and Mark Albrighton and not forgetting Nathan Delfouneso. I was absolutely delighted with them.

"Who's to say with a full quota of players we would have done better."

Dave Woodhall, Heroes and Villains fanzine editor and author, does not believe that fans will bear any resentment to the manager for his decision.

"The people who stayed at home seem to have made more of it than those who travelled," he said. "It will probably count against him until kick-off on Sunday.

"Like all football clubs it's all about the next game."

He also acknowledged that such selection decisions are indicative of the modern game.

"You can understand the hard business logic behind it," he said. "It's a real shame though that football has evolved to such a situation where a Champions League spot takes priority over winning trophies."

Uefa spokesman Rob Faulkner admitted he was disappointed O'Neill had played an under-strength side for the game but he accepted it was up to the manager to decide what his team's priorities are.


"It's unfortunate in the sense that the Uefa Cup is still a European competition and we would hope for sporting reasons that teams would put out their best sides. It's only fair on the other team," he said.

"You would hope as a fan that they were going there to try and win the match.

"I think for most of the teams involved it is a proper European competition that can only get better next season.

"On the other hand you can understand perhaps that for some clubs, particularly in England when they have got Premier League matches coming up, they are still involved in the FA Cup or the Carling Cup, there's a lot of matches to be played and perhaps the manager looks at his priorities and makes his choices."

Bolton boss Gary Megson led his side to the last 16 of the Uefa Cup last year but, like O'Neill, he was criticised for fielding weakened teams in the competition.

"It is not purely financial," said Megson. "But, if you win the Uefa Cup, it might not be worth as much as your prize money in the Premier League.

"People are talking about a European league. I think it is here now. There are clubs that expect to be in the Champions League and have to be in the Champions League.

"So they buy two teams, one that can win games in the Premier League and another that can win in the Champions League. Most clubs - and certainly the ones in the Uefa Cup - cannot do that."

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see also
CSKA Moscow 2-0 Villa (agg 3-1)
26 Feb 09 |  Europe
Pace is Villa's weapon in Moscow
19 Feb 09 |  Aston Villa
Aston Villa 1-1 CSKA Moscow
18 Feb 09 |  Europe


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