O'Neill defends retreat from Moscow

It all happened more than six weeks ago, but it is still the talk of the Aston Villa chat forums and will probably go down as the defining moment of what could have been a momentous season. So on Friday, even with a key game at home to Everton to consider, Martin O'Neill spent much time going over the same topic again: "Moscow."

In seven days at the end of February, his team had been dumped out of the FA Cup by today's opponents, lost third place in the Premier League with a home defeat by Chelsea and been held at Villa Park in the first leg of the Uefa Cup tie with CSKA Moscow. For the return game, O'Neill decided to leave eight senior players behind to rest ahead of the home game with Stoke.

Supporters who spent about £1,000 travelling to Moscow were not best pleased and the game, unsurprisingly, was lost 2-0. Worse, however, was the late capitulation to Stoke, who turned a 2-0 deficit after 88 minutes into a draw; Villa had lost out all round and have yet to recover.

Four successive defeats have followed, the last two alternately humiliating (5-0 at Liverpool) and sickening (3-2 to two more late goals at Manchester United). Arsenal, who had been concerned about losing a Champions' League place, have turned round a seven-point gap and Everton will push Villa down to sixth position if they continue their own fine run this afternoon.

So, Martin, the retreat from Moscow and the Uefa Cup? The former law student puts his case with predictable passion and eloquence. "By February time, we had played something like 14 more games than [at the same time] last season with a squad that was not much larger, and we had a chance of maybe breaking into the top four.

"I had to prioritise. There were people who should have known better, ex-players, saying the Uefa Cup was there for the taking. But we were in the last 32, not the last eight or 16. Tottenham had made their intentions clear too, sending out a youth (sic) side to [Shakhtar] Donetsk. Manchester City were not sitting fourth or fifth in the League. This is a competition in which I took Celtic to the final, beating Liverpool along the way, it was fantastic, the most glorious trip [to Seville] imaginable. But we [Villa] did not have the squad size to cope with it."

Would he do the same again next season, prosecution counsel asks. "That's a very good point. I'm hoping those circumstances wouldn't arise again." In the bloated new Europa League, there is every chance they will, O'Neill's wish being that whatever competitions Villa are in, the club's hitherto supportive American owner, Randy Lerner, will have authorised as much if not more spending than last summer's £40 million.

That was a figure second only to City, who are in a league, if not a world, of their own. Supporters who travelled to Moscow may have been pacified by a special evening meal at Villa Park last Tuesday, when O'Neill put his case, though not all of them are convinced that the club have had any better value for money in the transfer market than they did with their Russian trip.

Steve Sidwell and Nicky Shorey have been among the disappointments; Emile Heskey was added for another £3.5m in January but has not scored since his debut and must now be considered second choice behind John Carew, who duplicates rather than complements him.

"The club has been in the doldrums for quite some time," O'Neill said, "with wee lifts here and there. What the Aston Villa fans want is to be competing and thinking they have got a chance of winning, going to matches thinking they are not going to get turned over."

Another chance comes round at 2pm today, and they need to take it.

Today's Games

ASTON VILLA v EVERTON (2pm, Setanta Sports 1)

While Everton have almost certainly left their run for a Champions' League place too late, Villa peaked too early. Not much doubt about who are the form horses: the home side have not won in nine; the visitors have lost only twice since early December.

MANCHESTER CITY v FULHAM (4.10pm, Sky Sports 1)

Lack of stomach for a fight away from home continues to cost City in the League and now the Uefa Cup, but at Eastlands they have put together six successive League wins, conceding only two goals.

Fulham are unlikely to give the admirable Shay Given as much work as Martin Jol's Hamburg did.

Steve Tongue

Yaya Sanogo celebrates scoring the opening goal with Arsenal's English midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
champions leagueLive: All the latest from the Emirates and Bulgaria, where Liverpool face Ludogorets
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning