O’Neill plays down great expectations

Gabriel Agbonlahor’s first-half effort gave Villa their first win

at Old Trafford since 1983 and sent them third in the Premier

League, just one point behind United, who failed to take the

opportunity to draw level with leaders Chelsea. It means Villa have

now beaten United, Liverpool and Chelsea this season but O’Neill

was wary of reading too much into the result. “This win will give

us a great deal of confidence but that could quickly be eroded at

Sunderland on Tuesday,” he said. “It is a really great win, and I

am not trying to play it down, but the main thing is the players

should be really delighted with their performances against sides

that they normally find it hard against.” Even Sir Alex Ferguson

admitted Villa had edged the first half, but he was irritated at

the amount of time added on by referee Martin Atkinson, who decided

three minutes was enough for six substitutions and two lengthy

injury stoppages. “The timing should be taken out of the referee’s

hands,” Ferguson said. “Those two stoppages took two minutes and 20

seconds, and then there were the substitutions on top of that. That

is disappointing. “It is silly really. We are nearly in 2010. A

change should be made.” That Ferguson should be complaining about

such things told its own story and the United boss was overstating

the situation somewhat when he stated his side “pummelled” Villa

after the interval. In fact their best chance came before the break

when Wayne Rooney smashed a shot against the bar. Nemanja Vidic had

a second-half header booted off the line by Stewart Downing and

Brad Friedel made a smart save to deny Dimitar Berbatov late on.

But the Bulgarian failed to make proper contact after he had been

set up by Michael Carrick and it was a poor return for a United

side losing for the fourth time this term. “It is a missed

opportunity,” Ferguson added. “We created plenty of opportunities

and we should have taken at least one. “But this is not an easy

league. If you get there, you are going to be taken the distance.

As I always say, if we are in touching distance on New Year’s Day

we won’t be far away.” After being in the top four for so long last

year only to fade dramatically at the end, O’Neill is right to be

cautious this time around. However, he has a fine squad of players

at his disposal, Downing available after a long-term injury and

James Milner producing fine performances in central midfield. “If

it has done nothing else it will stop people asking about our

record here,” added O’Neill, who also revealed Stephen Warnock is

unlikely to be fit for Tuesday after suffering whiplash during a

collision with Park Ji-sung.