O'Neill calls on Villa players to take next step forward

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The Independent Football

Martin O'Neill admits Aston Villa "should be contesting more semi-finals and finals" as they look to reach the last four of the Carling Cup at Portsmouth tonight.

And Villa's manager is aware silverware would do wonders for the confidence and self-belief of the players in the same way as when he won the trophy with Leicester in 1997 and 2000.

Villa's only two triumphs in the last 25 years were in the League Cup in 1994 and 1996 under Ron Atkinson and Brian Little respectively against Manchester United and Leeds. Their only other final appearance during that period was in the 2000 FA Cup when they were beaten by Chelsea.

O'Neill said: "At Leicester when we did it, won the first trophy, it really was great. We needed a replay at Hillsborough to beat Middlesbrough and it is a fantastic feeling for everyone at the club, not just the manager. The players were particularly excited by it and, obviously for the fans, it is great to win something.

"You ask the old Leicester players, and it does wonders for your confidence and your whole morale – and it would be the just the same this time if the same happened at Villa. The history of this club would suggest we should be contesting more semi-finals and finals than they have done in the last 25 years."

Central defender James Collins is again ruled out through a combination of groin and thigh problems but O'Neill has been pleased with the way Carlos Cuellar has slotted in alongside Richard Dunne after playing mainly previously at right-back.

O'Neill will also check on the fitness of left-back Stephen Warnock and midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker before finalising his side. Warnock missed the 1-1 home draw with Tottenham at the weekend through illness while Reo-Coker suffered an ankle injury during the game.

Brad Guzan is likely to deputise between the posts for current number one Brad Friedel.