O’Neill tips trio to keep Villa on track

Martin O’Neill has challenged Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew and
Emile Heskey to keep Aston Villa on course for FA Cup glory and the
top four.

O’Neill is hoping Agbonlahor will have overcome a virus in
time for Saturday’s Premier League clash at Stoke.

Agbonlahor missed Villa’s 4-2 win at Reading in an FA Cup
quarter-final on Sunday with a stomach bug and was also unable to
train on Monday.

Carew seized his opportunity in the absence of Agbonlahor to
score a hat-trick against Reading and inspire a second-half
comeback.

O’Neill said: “We have scored a flurry of goals recently
against Reading and Burnley. I think the players are improving in
that aspect. They want to get into the penalty area to score.

“Gabby’s record is very good this season and John will
hopefully charge on and get that second wind for the last part of
the season – and we have Emile too.

“I hope between that talented group of players we get enough
goals to see us through. We are still in there fighting.”

O’Neill added: “Because of the cup runs and because of the
League Cup semis, a replay against Crystal Palace and the postponed
Premier League games, it means it’s going to be pretty hectic
between now and the end of the season.

“But it’s going to be pretty exciting if we can stay in there
and hang in there.

“Saturday’s game against Stoke will be extremely difficult,
followed by an equally difficult away trip to Wigan in mid-week.
But we’ve got to hang in, try and stay the course and stay with
it.”

Villa’s players reported back for training on Thursday after
being given a couple of days’ break, with O’Neill hoping Agbonlahor
will be showing signs of recovery ahead of the meeting with Tony
Pulis’ side.

O’Neill said: “Gabby was pretty ill on Sunday and also missed
training earlier this week. I am hoping it is one of those
48-to-72-hour viruses that will then clear up.”