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Premier League

Friedel puts faith in O'Neill and Lerner

Brad Friedel is backing the Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill and the club's owner Randy Lerner to come up with the formula to clinch a Champions League spot at the end of next season.

Villa just missed out on a top-four position in the Premier League for the second consecutive season and eventually finished in sixth place despite being in the running for the entire season.

Friedel, the Villa goalkeeper, still believes the campaign should be viewed as a success with Villa also reaching the Carling Cup final and the semi-finals of the FA Cup. But the veteran has faith in the O'Neill-Lerner combination to take Villa to the next level.

The former Blackburn player said: "We're moving in the right direction. We are all disappointed that we didn't get fourth spot because that was what we were aiming for. We came so close but I'm sure the gaffer [O'Neill] and chairman [Lerner] will figure out ways to push us to Champions League qualification next season. But we can still view it as having been a great season anyway. We've had two trips to Wembley and with a bit of luck we could have won the Carling Cup.

"Getting drawn against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final was tough. I always felt that whoever scored the first goal would win it. Unfortunately it was them. But we're moving in the right direction and hopefully we won't stop until we get that fourth spot in the Premier League."

Friedel will be 39 next Tuesday but insists his desire to play is as great as ever. He said: "Age is just a number. What matters is how I feel. I don't feel much different to what I did 10 years ago. I need a bit more maintenance between games these days but while I'm on the pitch, I feel good and, as long as I feel good, I want to play.

"The job as a professional footballer is to keep as fit as possible and be available for selection," he added. "That's what my goals are. I enjoy playing as much as ever. The older you get, the more you are aware the end is coming, so you appreciate it that much more."