Crunch time for Villa – O’Neill

Villa are facing up to a crucial seven days that will see them play

Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday, Crystal Palace in an FA

Cup fifth-round replay on Wednesday and then face Manchester United

in the Carling Cup final at Wembley next Sunday. It is a spell of

games O’Neill is relishing but he accepts three such important

matches in such a short period of time are going to test his squad

to the absolute limit. O’Neill, whose side are still firmly in the

shake-up for the top four, said: “It is going to be a really big

week for us commencing on Sunday and going through to the following

Sunday. We will see where we stand after Wembley. “Naturally, I

will treat each game on its merit. It will be very difficult for

the vast majority of players to appear in all three games. “It may

be that we will have to make changes. Each game is so very

important, with the FA Cup replay against Crystal Palace on

Wednesday the next hurdle after we play against Burnley.” Villa are

facing a Burnley side who are battling to avoid relegation and who

have not won an away game this season. But there is no way O’Neill

will be underestimating the challenge his side face against the

Lancashire outfit. Villa needed a late equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw

at Turf Moor in November, and O’Neill expects another tough test.

He added: “The game against Burnley at Turf Moor was very

difficult. “The conditions were wretched. I don’t think we played

particularly well in the first half. They took the lead and

deserved it. “We decided to throw on our trump card, Emile Heskey.

Amazingly, it came up and we got away with a 1-1 draw. “Playing

Burnley is a game not to be taken lightly. We are certainly not

good enough to treat anyone lightly. I have said that for three and

a half years and it still holds.” But the fact Burnley are fighting

for Premier League survival and have struggled so badly on their

travels does put added pressure on Villa, and that is a fact not

lost on O’Neill. O’Neill said: “It is a game with a heavy

expectation on us. We will have to deal with that and try and get

over the line, try and win the game and see where we stand with the

players. “I don’t think it will be easy. I saw Burnley play Fulham

(in a 3-0 defeat last week). Admittedly, they didn’t play well in

the game but they had a number of injuries and those players will

be back again for the game against Villa. “Like us, all their best

players will be available. In our case, it makes a big difference

to the team.” Villa are boosted by the return to the side of

12-goal striker Gabriel Agbonlahor after he missed last weekend’s

FA Cup tie at Palace with a leg injury. Fellow forward Heskey is

also fit to play after being forced off with a groin problem

against Palace.