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.”