O'Neill hails 'extraordinary' Milner
James Milner delivered an inspirational performance as Aston Villa closed in behind the Champions League chasing pack last night.
The midfielder further enhanced his claims for an England World Cup place by scoring a second-half winner as Villa edged an absorbing Barclays Premier League encounter at Wigan 2-1.
Both sides created numerous chances as they chased points for contrasting reasons but the quality of 24-year-old Milner, who claimed his 10th goal of the season, proved the difference.
The decisive strike at the DW Stadium came just after the hour, Milner firing home through a crowded penalty area after the Wigan defence had struggled to clear a corner.
Villa had led in the 25th minute after a bizarre own goal by James McCarthy - the Republic of Ireland international somehow sliced a clearance into his own net - but Wigan equalised immediately with a Gary Caldwell header.
Villa boss Martin O'Neill was in no doubt where most of the credit for victory was due, hailing the efforts of Milner.
"It was an extraordinary performance by a really good player," O'Neill said.
"Since he has stepped into central midfield his game his improved tenfold and he continues to go from strength to strength.
"When you play wide you depend on other people giving you the ball to get into the game but when you have got that determination and energy, you might as well use it in the centre of the field.
"It is something we have been crying out for, a midfielder scoring double figures, and he has been sensational."
Villa remain seventh but victory moved them within three points of fourth-placed Tottenham with a game in hand.
O'Neill added: "It was important for us to close the gap. We did that tonight and it was a brilliant win for us."
Villa also had two goals disallowed and Wigan's Chris Kirkland was the busier of the two goalkeepers but the hosts showed plenty of attacking intent themselves.
Hugo Rodallega and Maynor Figueroa where their chief threats while Caldwell's performance was a personal triumph after a horror show in Saturday's 4-0 thrashing at Bolton.
Nevertheless, defeat leaves Roberto Martinez's men just four points above the relegation zone ahead of a crunch clash with fellow strugglers Burnley at the weekend.
Martinez said: "It was a really even game, really open.
"Both sides were probably tired after Saturday but they gave everything.
"I couldn't see much between the two sides. I am just disappointed about the own goal and a soft goal from a corner after a poor clearance.
"That leaves a bad taste because I don't think the players deserved to get nothing out of the game.
"I felt the players shared everything in that game and it should have been a draw."
Latest in Sport
Paul Scholes: Manchester United vs Liverpool - I don't understand why Brendan Rodgers was not more attacking against Basel
Jesus Christ plays for Chelsea - that's what one in five children thinks
Transfer Talk: Nemanja Vidic to return to Manchester United; Hazard to leave Chelsea; Sunderland want Radamel Falcao
Frank Warren column: Don't bet on Amir Khan landing pay day against Floyd Mayweather
Manchester United transfer news: Kevin Strootman move edges closer
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food