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Villa manager Martin will come good


Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill

It is time for Martin O'Neill to deliver.

Time for O'Neill to live up to the ‘Martin the Magnificent' tag he was given in winning three Scottish Premier League titles with Celtic by turning his work in three-and-a-half years at Aston Villa into trophies.

He can take a stride nearer that objective tonight night when he takes his Aston Villa side to Blackburn in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final.

The fans don't seem to be able to make up their minds on O'Neill.

Some call him ‘Martin No'Deal' because of the time he spends weighing up transfer targets. Others criticise him stridently for spending £23m on dubious deals which brought Marlon Harewood, Nicky Shorey, Zat Knight and Carlos Cuellar to the club.

Yet, hesitant or wasteful, it is a fact O'Neill has taken Villa to sixth-placed Premier League finishes in the last two seasons after finishing 10th and 16th in the years before he arrived.

Currently they again lie sixth, level on points with Manchester City, two behind fourth-placed Tottenham.

It is why the perception in some quarters is that the club is treading water. That it needs an extra push from American owner Randy Lerner. That it needs O'Neill to spend big money.

To break into the top four that view might be right. You do not have to be a footballing expert to recognise Villa are crying out for a creative midfielder. They miss Gareth Barry following his transfer to Manchester City.

No prizes either for identifying that O'Neill is desperate for a top-notch striker, considering his current strikeforce comprises the veteran John Carew and the fragile non-goal-scoring Emile Heskey plus Gabriel Agbonlahor.

But sometimes a manager has to be trusted. And now is the time to trust O'Neill.

Forget the few dodgy signings. Look at the enduring form of goalkeeper Brad Friedel. Look at the solidity in defence brought by the signings of James Collins and Richard Dunne.

Look at the work of England's James Milner, who at £12m remains the club record signing.

O'Neill has not brought soaring achievement. His sides do have pace and a penchant for counter-attack, but they do not have the allure of Harry Redknapp's Tottenham. Then again, Redknapp has been allowed to spend big on £15m Jermain Defoe, £14m Wilson Palacios and £12m Robbie Keane.

Yet O'Neill has delivered steady improvement without putting the club's financial future in jeopardy. And that is something to cherish in a league where Portsmouth's existence has been threatened by living the dream.

He has also done so by nurturing mainly British players, putting faith in their spirit and desire when too often others reach for the latest cheap foreigner.

Villa can be proud of the Acorns sponsorship deal which sees their shirt space assisting charity. They have a billionaire owner who lets his manager get on with the job.

And already this season they have had impressive wins against Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as beating Blackburn on Saturday to ease into the fourth round of the FA Cup.

No, it is not yet the Villa of the early 1980s, who won the league and then the European Cup, beating Bayern Munich in Rotterdam.

But a final beckons if Villa, as expected, can get past Blackburn again, starting at Ewood Park tonight. Time for progress to be delivered.

Belfast Telegraph