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O'Neill relishing Wembley return

Martin O'Neill has backed Aston Villa to make the most of their second match at Wembley this season when they play Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final next month.

O'Neill saw his side fight back from two goals down to beat Reading 4-2 in a thrilling quarter-final at the Madejski Stadium yesterday, with striker John Carew netting a second-half hat-trick.

The Villa manager was critical of the state of the playing surface at the national stadium during the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in the Carling Cup final, claiming there "was no excuse" for the poor conditions.

But after booking a return trip after a fabulous second-half showing against their Coca-Cola Championship hosts O'Neill admitted his side were ready for another bite.

The pitch may have been relaid before the semi-finals following the concerns raised about it.

O'Neill said: "It's great to be back at Wembley again - even on that pitch.

"I didn't enjoy the occasion at all last week so there is a chance to put that right now.

"It took us time today before we treated it like a quarter-final in the FA Cup.

"You need character and determination to fight and we didn't have that in the first half.

"But it came back in great abundance.

"It's fantastic for the football club to be in the semi-finals and I genuinely feel for the supporters. They were fantastic.

"Even at 2-0 down to a Championship club they were cheering us on and that was a big boost."

Villa were staring at an upset when Shane Long's two goals put the Royals in control at the break but from the moment Ashley Young pulled one back within two minutes of the restart the Premier League side moved through the gears.

Carew scored twice in the space of six minutes to put Villa ahead before the hour mark before capping the win with a penalty in stoppage-time.

Villa's run to the Carling Cup final saw an even more thrilling game when Blackburn were beaten 6-4 in the semi-final, and O'Neill conceded that his side had produced some dramatic football in the cups this season.

He said: "There have been some great games this season and that is what cup football is about.

"We go for it and so have other teams against us. Reading's part shouldn't be underplayed.

"They were fantastic and played it like a quarter-final from the first whistle. They were terrific."

Reading boss Brian McDermott reserved praise for goalscorer Long, who had sat out the previous four games through suspension following a red card in the fifth-round tie with West Brom.

First he headed in after Matt Mills had flicked on a corner, and the Republic of Ireland international then swept home a second after a fine passing move.

McDermott said: "Shane scored twice against international defenders and he was first-class throughout.

"I am very proud of all my players. I am disappointed for the fans that we couldn't get a day out at Wembley but we must now focus on the league.

"We came up against players who could be in the Champions League next year.

"They have pace, power and quality all over the pitch and I think we gave them as tough a game as they have had all season."