Aston Villa 0 Wigan Athletic 2: Barry urged to take 'opportunity of a lifetime' and move to Liverpool

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The Independent Football

Frustration. Puzzlement. It was hard to know which was Martin O'Neill's predominant emotion but they were both very strong after a result which effectively ended Aston Villa's hopes of beating Everton to a Uefa Cup spot and ensured Wigan's survival.

While O'Neill pondered the strange flatness of what was supposed to be a rousing send-off for the Juventus-bound defender Olof Mellberg, he refused to blame speculation over the future of his captain, Gareth Barry. He did, however, admit that last week's revelation of Liverpool's interest in the England midfielder had not helped matters.

After the match, Patrik Berger encouraged Barry to seek pastures new. "It is Liverpool, and if I was in Gareth's position I would go there tomorrow," said Berger, who added that he had spoken to Barry about the situation. "It is the opportunity of a lifetime.

"He is the heart of our team and it would be a massive challenge for him. It would be Champions' League every year and he would be challenging to win trophies every year. It is some difference – and Liverpool doesn't come after you every year.

"The manager is doing a fantastic job here. But I think to reach the top four it will take more time, more work and more players. To reach the Champions League you would need to keep players like Gareth Barry"

O'Neill – who said he had yet to respond officially to Liverpool's request to sign Barry in a player-exchange deal – is aware of the importance of keeping his team together. Such is also the main aim for Wigan's manager, Steve Bruce, given the blinding form of two of his midfielders, the Honduran Wilson Palacios and Antonio Valencia, the 22-year-old from Ecuador who decided this match with two second-half goals.

Valencia benefited from a looping deflection off Villa's left-back, Wilfred Bouma, which helped his 52nd-minute shot evade Scott Carson, but his second, when he dabbed the ball home after beating Bouma and Mellberg to an Emile Heskey head-down, owed nothing to fortune.

Bruce will travel to Egypt this week to check on a possible signing, but he has assigned two weeks for a well-deserved summer break. The nature of his challenge became clear in December when his side lost at Bolton, leaving them with nine points from 16 games. On the evidence of this victory, they have the talent to ensure a far less anxious time next season.

Goals: Valencia (52) 0-1; Valencia (63) 0-2.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Knight (Berger, 60), Laursen, Bouma (Harewood, 69); Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry, Young; Agbonlahor, Carew. Substitutes not used: S Taylor (gk), Salifou, Routledge.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Boyce, Bramble, Scharner, Kilbane; Valencia, Palacios (Skoko, 90), Koumas, Brown; Bent (King, 77), Heskey (Sibierski, 89). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), R Taylor.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Wigan Brown.

Man of the match: Valencia.

Attendance: 42,640.

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