O’Neill wants Villa recognition

Gabriel Agbonlahor’s first-half header ensured Villa collected

their first Old Trafford victory since 1983. More importantly, it

added the scalp of the Premier League champions to those of

Liverpool and Chelsea, that were collected earlier this season. And

they are yet to face Arsenal. So, rather than being painted as an

industrious team full of scrappers, not afraid to launch the long

ball when required, O’Neill thinks a more kind description might be

in order. “There is an ability within our squad that sometimes gets

overlooked,” said the Northern Irishman. “People looked at our away

results last season and decided we were a counter-attacking side.

There is nothing wrong with that. Manchester United have won

championships like it. “We have also tightened up defensively. “I

know we have improved. A couple of years ago we could not have

performed like we have been.” There are a number of key men – Brad

Friedel for a start. The American had a quieter evening than he

might have expected on Saturday, but needed to produce an excellent

late save to deny Dimitar Berbatov an equaliser. James Milner was

singled out for special praise by Sir Alex Ferguson, which must

make the Villa Park faithful feel slightly queasy, wondering

whether it might be the first step towards a bid for the former

Leeds star. Stewart Downing’s discipline has not gone unnoticed

either and it was the winger who was alert enough to boot a Nemanja

Vidic header off the line when the Serbian thought he was going to

score. Agbonlahor clearly likes facing United given he has now

found the net against them in four successive seasons, while at the

back Richard Dunne has proved to be a very astute buy from

Manchester City. Indeed, the sight of Dunne featuring in a team

currently operating at a higher level than their own must have most

City fans scratching their heads given his replacement at

Eastlands, Joleon Lescott, was acquired at the not inconsiderable

sum of £22million. After leaving City disillusioned at

the way executive chairman Garry Cook was handling a club he still

has a strong attachment to, Dunne is delighted at the collective

unity he has found at Villa. “We have a really good atmosphere in

the dressing room,” he said. “Everyone works hard for each other.

Everyone is prepared to put their foot in. “You could see that by

the way we defended. Manchester United are champions for a reason.

It is taken for granted that you will not go home with a victory

without everyone doing their bit when you come under the cosh.”

Ferguson was left grumbling at the amount of time added on by

referee Martin Atkinson, but O’Neill claimed Villa deserved their

good fortune, having had victory snatched from them in the

corresponding fixture last term when Cristiano Ronaldo’s late

equaliser paved the way for a season-defining stoppage-time winner

from Federico Macheda. It left United to go away and lick their

wounds ahead of Tuesday’s crucial encounter with Wolves, and Villa

to reflect on the strides they have made by coming through a

bizarre weekend of results with their position enhanced

considerably. Not that O’Neill was letting an Old Trafford win go

to his head. “I have not enjoyed a game for about 20 years,” he

responded, when he asked whether he had enjoyed the contest. “Maybe

when we have won the number of games Manchester United have over

the last half century we will have something to boast about. “Until

then, we will just try to hang in there for as long as we can

because we know the teams who have tended to rise to the top

positions will eventually be expected to do so. “Ourselves,

Manchester City and Tottenham are very strong and winning matches

like this is bound to do our confidence good. But that could easily

be eroded at Sunderland on Tuesday and we have more tough fixtures

after that, so there is no point in us getting carried away.”