O'Neill aims to fill gap at Villa's heart
Aston Villa 0 Wigan Athletic 2
Monday 17 August 2009
If Aston Villa suspected that finding a replacement for Gareth Barry would be their toughest test of the close season, it took just one game to emphasise how influential their former captain was. Picked apart by Wigan's slick passing game, Villa need manager Martin O'Neill to add more experience to his squad before the end of the August transfer window.
Barry's departure after 12 years as a Villa first-team player was expected having been tempted by Liverpool's advances the previous year – even if his £12m move to Manchester City was something of a surprise – but the void he has left behind was skilfully exposed by a Wigan side revitalised under the new management of Roberto Martinez.
Goals in either half from Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega and Jason Koumas emphasised Wigan's superiority, but also served to underline the job ahead for O'Neill as he seeks to strengthen a squad who have now won just two of their last 14 Premier League matches. Already missing Barry's combative presence in midfield, Villa have lost Martin Laursen at the back after he was forced to retire through injury while John Carew's foot problem prevented him taking a place on the bench.
In their place, O'Neill has relied on youth with 18-year-old Fabian Delph, a £6m signing from Leeds, preferred in midfield to either Nigel Reo-Coker or Steve Sidwell and brought on 20-year-old Mark Albrighton as right back to replace the tiring Habib Beye. In Carew's absence up front, Nathan Delfouneso, 18, was chosen as a substitute for Gabriel Agbonlahor late on. They may all be exciting prospects but do not, as yet, carry the influence Villa have grown accustomed to with Barry.
"Of course we missed Gareth. He's a quality player and playing regularly for England, but we've got to get on with it," said O'Neill. "We can't bemoan that. It's a loss we've know about for some time. We were hoping we would have been able to have done something, but there are a few other Premiership clubs having the same difficulties. It's not for lack of trying and the experience part of it could be important for us."
Wigan are also looking to strengthen having lost two of their most influential players when Antonio Valencia joined Manchester United and Lee Cattermole decided to link up with Steve Bruce again at Sunderland. Martinez has so far bought modestly, recruiting Jordi Gomez and Jason Scotland from former club Swansea, but would like further additions before the end of the transfer window.
"I don't feel the squad is finished. We've got until 31 August and once we do that, we will keep working as a team and try to be as good as we can be." After Saturday's result, which was greeted by boos ringing out around Villa Park, there was little doubt which of the two teams is in greater need of reinforcement.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Beye (Albrighton, 67), Cuellar, Davies, Shorey; Milner, Petrov, Delph (Sidwell, 60), Young; Agbonlahor (Delfouneso, 78), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Gardner, Clark, Reo-Coker
Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Kirkland; Melchiot, Bramble, Scharner, Figueroa; Brown, Thomas; N'Zogbia (Sinclair, 66), Gomez, Koumas (Cho, 89); Rodallega (Scotland 90) Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Boyce, Edman, King Bookings: Aston Villa: Delph, Young. Wigan: Bramble, Figuerora
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Rodallega
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