O'Neill fights back after Zico criticism

Villa manager denies Brazilian's claim his side play 'one-dimensional' game
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The Independent Football

Martin O'Neill has insisted Aston Villa are not one-dimensional in the way they play as he hit back at comments from his CSKA Moscow counterpart and Uefa Cup rival Zico. Brazilian legend Zico intimated that Villa were predictable in their approach and over-reliant on winger Ashley Young during the 1-1 draw at Villa Park last week.

He said: "We were not surprised by the way Villa played. It was very seldom they had the ball on the ground making passes. They get Ashley Young to put the ball into the box a lot. We expected this sort of game and we were ready for it."

But O'Neill believes this analysis is wide of the mark although he sees nothing wrong in making the most of a "world-class" player in Young to open up opposition defences.

He said: "Funnily enough, Ashley Young didn't play against Wigan recently and someone said then that all we did was get it out wide for James Milner to lob in a couple of hopeful balls.

"Funnily enough, I knew the way CSKA were going to play. But I wouldn't be running around telling them whether how they play is good, bad or indifferent.

"When I was at Notts Forest, we won the league championship and two European Cups – which I don't think CSKA Moscow have won – by getting the ball out wide to a world-class winger [John Robertson]. He beat a couple of players, whipped it in and then Gary Birtles or Tony Woodcock headed it into the net.

"I am sure Zico would also have played in a side that can also get the ball out wide and beat players. I thought it was part of the game. I don't know whether what Zico said was a criticism. The fact they were unable to stop a world-class player like Young from doing what is allowed on the pitch might tell me something."

O'Neill added: "I don't accept Zico's point because one of the outstanding players the other night was a central midfielder for us called Stiliyan Petrov. He got the ball down and played through them, took it off them and ran past them. He did all of those things. It is a cop-out. I don't accept what he has said. If getting it wide and someone beating three or four players exhilarates the crowd, I don't see a great deal wrong with it. We are not one-dimensional. Absolutely not. Far from it – and I wouldn't go and tell Moscow how to play."

Despite his outburst, O'Neill had made it clear where his priorities lie by leaving eight of his regular first-team players out of the squad for the second leg clash.

Stand-in captain Gareth Barry, Brad Friedel, Emile Heskey, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Carlos Cuellar, James Milner and Petrov are all excluded from the 19-strong party.

In addition captain Martin Laursen, Nigel Reo-Coker and Wilfred Bouma are all on the injured list. Luke Young, Curtis Davies, Zat Knight and John Carew are among the few experienced players in the squad. But youngsters such as Elliott Parish, Eric Lichaj, Ciaran Clark, Shane Lowry, Barry Bannan and Mark Albrighton are included.

O'Neill said: "If we hadn't other things to concern ourselves with, like league points which are very important for us at this stage, I would have no fear about going to play CSKA."