Martin O'Neill is refusing to blame injuries for Aston Villa's slide down the Premiership table - and has called on his players to rediscover the winning habit against Charlton. O'Neill has a growing casualty list, the striker Chris Sutton being the latest addition. He suffered blurred vision and concussion against Manchester United last weekend and will be out for at least six weeks.
Villa have gone eight games without a win since briefly occupying third spot in early November and are now lying in 10th position. With Chelsea and Manchester United (twice) facing Villa after the trip to The Valley today, O'Neill's worst sequence of results as a manager - 10 games without a victory in his early days at Leicester - could come under threat.
But O'Neill, who will look to strengthen during the January transfer window - with the Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips a potential target - is not making excuses for Villa's slump in fortunes. He said: "We have had a few problems, but it is up to us to cope with them. I accept the fact we would not have envisaged the extent of the problems. But a lot of other clubs are in the same position - and how you cope with it will determine how decent things are at the end of the season.
"It's a major blow when major players are not playing. Then you are automatically weakened, but we have to deal with it and get back to winning ways."
O'Neill is far from downbeat despite Villa's recent sequence, although he anticipates a test against the Charlton side revitalised by their new manager, Alan Pardew. He said: "After 20 games, you are right to assess things. It is up to us to start improving on recent results, even though our form has been quite decent. We should have won a couple of games recently and have been far from outplayed in the others. Ironically, we are playing better than when a few results went our way. But the most important issue is winning some games."
O'Neill will not be taking today's opponents lightly. "I saw Charlton the other evening against Fulham, and they played with a lot of spirit and determination," he said. "They will be disappointed to have conceded such a late goal, which cost them two points. They will be buoyed with the new manager coming in. It is a big lift for the team, and the crowd were very supportive on Wednesday. It will be difficult for us down there.
"Ideally we would like reinforcements in January. Whether it works in practice is a totally different issue. We will be trying to strengthen - but we won't be alone in that. I have a fair idea of what I want to do, but I'll keep that to myself."
The defender Mark Delaney is to see the renowned knee specialist Dr Richard Steadman in America after another setback to his recovery from injury. Delaney is anxious to resume playing, because his current contract with Villa expires in the summer.Reuse content