Aston Villa 1 Blackburn Rovers 1: New faces needed as Villa look to Europe

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The Independent Football

Any of that ever-swelling number of teams competing to land English football's most modern jackpot – yes, fourth place in the Premier League – appreciate that the next four months will afford scant time for rest. But Martin O'Neill is anticipating that for him these next four days will be particularly sleepless.

After watching his side draw one of those games that could have been won or lost, with little injustice either way, O'Neill confessed that this final period before Thursday's transfer deadline could make or break Aston Villa's unlikely challenge for a Champions League place.

"I've said before that we've been incredible fortunate with injuries so far this season," he said. "The question is, are we going to be so lucky in the last 14 games or so? I would naturally be concerned if the transfer window closed and we didn't supplement."

In plain English, O'Neill has to strengthen a squad he believes to be one of the smallest in the League and do so rather quickly. Expect one big signing, perhaps a Jermain Defoe, and do not be surprised to see another. The Ulsterman is willing to spend and points to the supposedly large outlay on Ashley Young a year ago as justification of stretching those purses strings.

"We paid £8m for Ashley and it will rise to £9.2m, £9.4m whatever," he said. "Now there's a few other players in our League who cost £30m. So Ashley now seems good value."

On afternoons like this he seems tremendous value and without his glittering second-half contribution, Blackburn probably would have left the Second City with three points and denied Villa their rise to fifth place. As O'Neill pointed out, Fabio Capello – the England manger in the stands electing to attend the only Premier League fixture of the day – could not have failed to be impressed.

"When Ashley is on the ball he is exceptional and we depend on him a lot," said O'Neill, before jumping back on his hobby horse. "But then we depend on a few players a lot. See how many of our players have played every League game this season, or as near as dammit. More than any other side, I'd imagine."

One of these ever-presents, or almost ever-presents, is Olof Mellberg and the timing of the Swedish defender's move to Juventus could reveal much about Villa's ambitions. The Italians will sign Mellberg regardless in the summer when his contract is up, but have dangled £500,000 in front of Villa for an immediate move.

Although O'Neill may very well have another right back lined up – Alan Hutton from Rangers? – Mellberg is the perfect character to have around for this type of run-in and is not the sort of player to give anything but his best, no matter how much he is itching to pitch up in Turin. It would seem an odd piece of business on Villa's behalf, if only because half a million is pennies compared to the potential riches to be earned.

If they fall just short of the top four, top six, they could easily think back to this encounter as two points which got away. Young almost curled in his second free-kick in injury time and earlier Gabriel Agbonlahor had netted a shot that, on reflection, did not arrive from an offside position.

But Blackburn, involved in their own European charge, had most of the game until the last quarter and were fully deserving of their lead, courtesy of Roque Santa Cruz's ninth goal in as many games. Indeed, if Matt Derbyshire had converted a first-half penalty then it likely would have been beyond Villa. Even beyond Young.

Goals: Santa Cruz (68) 0-1; Young (73) 1-1.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Laursen, Davies, Bouma; Petrov (Harewood, 60), Reo-Coker, Barry, Young; Carew, Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Knight, Gardner, Osbourne.

Blackburn (4-5-1): Friedel; Emerton, Ooijer, Samba, Warnock; Derbyshire (Roberts, 87), Bentley, Reid, Dunn, Pedersen; Santa Cruz. Substitutes not used: Brown, McCarthy, Khizanishvili, Berner.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Blackburn Reid, Samba.

Man of the match: Young.

Attendance: 39,602.

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