Martin O'Neill is not a profligate man by nature – "careful" might be the appropriate description in polite society – but when he makes a last foray into the transfer market this week, the name of one of his more expensive signings could just be burning a hole in his owner's wallet.
Ashley Young cost nigh on £10m from Watford last season, but on the evidence of the beginning of this campaign the 22-year-old is a bargain wrapped up as an absolute steal.
Indeed, should the Aston Villa manager decide that a similar price tag on display in West Bromwich's "five days to go sale" is similarly worthy of threatening the club's record – and the indication is O'Neill will after his declaration that "we must tighten defensively" – then Curtis Davies should thank Young as soon as the centre-half makes the short trip up the M6. As an advert for young Englishmen with boot-loads of potential, Young is positively prime-time.
His contribution to Villa's first victory of the season certainly read like a pitch from an agency – scores the equaliser, gets a defender sent off, sets up the injury-time winner. True, the pedants did end up scratching his name off the scoresheet and awarding Zat Knight the own goal, but only the Ceefax-watchers would have been in any doubt. Without Young, Fulham would have left with a return of which they were in many ways deserving.
It is little wonder, then, that O'Neill dipped into the bucket of superlatives to label Young "sensational" and "world-class". The Ulsterman had another excuse, too, as folklore now has it that he spent the second half in the press box after being sent to the stands for arguing with the referee, Steve Bennett, as the teams walked off. Well, he got halfway there.
O'Neill apologised for the red card – an embarrassment he claims not to have suffered since "very early on in my Leicester days" – but was not about to back-track on his enthusiasm over Young. "When Ashley is in that type of form we always look capable," he said. "Something always seems about to happen when he is on the ball. He's absolutely exhilarating and the crowd have taken to him. There's nothing quite like watching a winger taking on defenders."
O'Neill clearly thinks "international" when he sees Young and it is surely a case of when, and not if, the Under-21 performer receives the senior call. Such observers as Arsène Wenger have already expressed their admiration, pointing towards his versatility as well as his pace. The former Watford striker now appears most comfortable on the left flank, although with that technique he could fit anywhere. His ball to Shaun Maloney for the winner was as pinpoint as it was nerveless, with time running out as quickly as ideas.
Fulham should take some credit for that, although all Lawrie Sanchez wants to take right now is umbrage. When a manager points the finger at the officials and then the fates it is usually time for the digit to turn towards his own team. But this was different; the Cottagers do have genuine grievances and Sanchez was fully entitled to wonder aloud about officials "continually getting the big decisions wrong". Any bat-eared FA bigwig should consider compensating Sanchez, not fining him.
So another Saturday, another glaring injustice, and it just happens that it was all there in black and white again. The "penalty" in the first half was almost as obvious as David Healy's "goal" of the previous weekend, with Craig Gardner "saving" Diomansy Kamara's close-range effort on the line . That would, as Sanchez put it, have "been 2-0 and done and dusted".
Instead, it was case of glum and busted after Kamara hit the post, Chris Baird tired of Young's fly-bys and Villa delivered another last-gasp hammer blow to the heart.
Like O'Neill, Sanchez will go the chequebook this week, probably bringing in Thomas Gravesen and perhaps a forward, but what he needs most is an exorcist. "The gods have it in for us," he said, reflecting on the third game this season in which his side have led, only to lose. Too early to panic, too tempting not to.Reuse content