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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent