O'Neill plans to rotate squad for tough run-in

Villa manager concedes need to reshuffle team for challenges on two fronts

Martin O'Neill intends to make full use of his squad to help Aston Villa through their current demanding schedule of five games in 15 days.

Villa are pushing for a Champions League spot and, having been beaten in the Carling Cup final, are now through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup where they will meet Chelsea.

O'Neill has tended to rely mainly on the same core group of players as Villa look to stay in contention with Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Liverpool for a top-four spot in the Premier League. But he concedes he will have to make changes for the battles ahead as Villa prepare for tonight's trip to Wigan Athletic.

O'Neill said: "We've had a pretty hectic schedule. We've been going non-stop since mid-January and by next weekend will have played 16 games in 66 days – a match every four days.

"We got through to the Carling Cup final, we are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and, when you're having a decent stab at the FA Cup, you are going to have postponements and we're fitting games in at the moment. I would prefer that to not being involved at all. Having said that, it is the utilisation of the squad now from here on in that I'm hoping will sort things out.

"It will be a busy spell for us ahead. I know that and we have to be up for the task. It's all about recovery in between games and that is the most important element of it all. But the main point over the next few weeks, with games coming thick and fast, and a semi-final to prepare for, is I will be very surprised indeed if we don't have to make a number of changes in the team."

O'Neill believes the race for the top-four position – and indeed the league title – is wide open this season. He said: "You look at this season and the number of games the top sides have lost this year – and they would all have been surprised at that.

"I think it has made for a more exciting race, not just for the championship itself but also the race for fourth place. There will be points dropped when teams play each other but also other points will be dropped because it is the nature of this season. In terms of fourth place, Tottenham have got points on the board and at this stage of the season that is important. Manchester City are still very strong and very much in contention and, despite the fact Liverpool got beaten by Wigan last week, they cannot be written off and have the capabilities to win games."

O'Neill insists Wigan have to be taken seriously despite their inconsistent results, emphasised last week when they defeated Liverpool but were then heavily beaten at Bolton. He said: "They've had a strange season. At times they have played brilliantly in matches and then they've had some other indifferent performances.

"It has been topsy turvy for them this year but the fact they defeated us, Chelsea and Liverpool shows it is a game to be taken very seriously."

Villa's leading scorer, Gabriel Agbonlahor, could return to the starting line-up at Wigan. Agbonlahor missed the FA Cup quarter-final win at Reading eight days ago through illness and was only named among the substitutes for the weekend draw at Stoke City. But the 14-goal forward is now back to full fitness and may dislodge either John Carew or former Wigan striker Emile Heskey as Villa look to maintain their 2010 unbeaten league record.

The Wigan manager, Roberto Martinez, meanwhile, claims his players have already got Saturday's crushing loss to Bolton out of their system. Martinez's side produced one of their best performances of the season to beat Liverpool last Monday but then slumped 4-0 at the Reebok Stadium.

Such inconsistency has been the story of Wigan's campaign but Martinez has no doubt they will bounce back from this latest setback.

The Spaniard said: "It has happened the whole campaign and it is important we learn from it. But whenever we have a disappointment we get together and we get stronger as a whole – that is the reaction we need tomorrow. In some areas we didn't cope with the disappointment of certain decisions or the goals we conceded. But I am pleased with the way everybody is getting ready for the game tomorrow. That is the way we have to be at this stage of the season.

"It was an outstanding performance against Liverpool – that is what we are capable of and we have to make sure we get that on a regular basis. To do that you need to get ready for the next game."

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?