O’Neill to make use of Villa squad

Villa are pushing for a Champions League spot and, having been

beaten in the Carling Cup final, are now through to the semi-finals

of the FA Cup and a meeting with Chelsea. O’Neill has tended to

rely mainly on the same core group of players as Villa look to stay

in contention with Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool for a

top-four spot in the Barclays Premier League. But he concedes he

will have to make changes for the battles ahead as Villa prepare

for tomorrow evening’s clash away to Jekyll and Hyde side Wigan.

O’Neill said: “We’ve had a pretty hectic schedule. We’ve been going

non-stop since mid January and by next weekend will have played 16

games in 66 days – a match every four days. “We got through to the

Carling Cup final, we are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and,

when you’re having a decent stab at the FA Cup, you are going to

have postponements and we’re fitting games in at the moment. “I

would prefer that to not being involved at all. Having said that,

it is the utilisation of the squad now from here on in that I’m

hoping will sort things out. “It will be a busy spell for us ahead.

I know that and we have to be up for the task. It’s all about

recovery in between games and that is the most important element of

it all. “But the main point over the next few weeks, with games

coming thick and fast, and a semi-final to prepare for, is I will

be very surprised indeed if we don’t have to make a number of

changes in the team.” O’Neill believes the race for the top-four

position – and indeed the league title – is wide open this season.

He said: “You look at this season and the number of games the top

sides have lost this year – and they would all have been surprised

at that. “I think it has made for a more exciting race, not just

for the championship itself but also the race for fourth place.

“There will be points dropped when teams play each other but also

other points will be dropped because it is the nature of this

season. “In terms of fourth place, Tottenham have got points on the

board and at this stage of the season that is important.

“Manchester City are still very strong and very much in contention

and, despite the fact Liverpool got beaten by Wigan last week, they

can not be written off and have the capabilities to win games. “It

has been difficult for them this year but they are also capable of

winning six on the trot.” O’Neill insists Wigan have to be taken

seriously despite their up-and-down results, emphasised last week

when they defeated Liverpool but were then heavily beaten at

Bolton. He said: “They’ve had a strange season. At times they have

played brilliantly in matches and then they’ve had some other

indifferent performances. “They shipped in nine goals at Tottenham

but their win over Liverpool just over a week ago, a game I was at,

was fantastic. “It has been topsy turvy for them this year but the

fact they defeated us, Chelsea and Liverpool shows it is a game to

be taken very seriously.” Villa’s leading scorer Gabriel Agbonlahor

could return to the starting line-up at Wigan. Agbonlahor missed

the FA Cup quarter-final win at Reading eight days ago through

illness and was only named amongst the substitutes for the weekend

goalless draw at Stoke. But the 14-goal forward is now back to full

fitness and may dislodge either John Carew or former Wigan striker

Emile Heskey as Villa look to maintain their 2010 unbeaten league

record.