Having suffered similar frustration in the Carling Cup final when Phil Dowd failed to dismiss Nemanja Vidic for hauling over Agbonlahor, O'Neill seems convinced that Villa's middle ranking in the elite food chain leads to missing out on major decisions. For O'Neill, to lose one Wembley match because of poor refereeing may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness by officials.
Related ArticlesAston Villa 0 Chelsea 3O'Neill rages at Terry tackleVilla-Chelsea: player ratingsFA Cup semi-final actionMilner the star despite Villa's defeatSport on television'I'd spoken to Mike Riley some weeks ago over the decision here in the Carling Cup final,'' reflected O'Neill. 'He was quite fair and sympathised with my plight. I'm sure he will sympathise with my plight on Monday.
'I really do hate to malign referees. God almighty, it's an incredibly difficult job and it's more difficult now when you've got instant replays on things the referee can only have one look at. But that [Mikel on Agbonlahor] was straightforward and game-changing. There wasn't a person in the stadium, including all the players, who didn't think it was a penalty. I think Chelsea have accepted that as well.''
Asked if England's Champions League clubs did not get the same big decisions from European referees they did domestically, O'Neill replied: 'That's a fair point. Chelsea could consider themselves unlucky not to still be in the Champions League. They got a desperately poor decision when Salomon Kalou was through in the first game [against Inter Milan] and Didier Drogba was pulled back for a penalty."
O'Neill's point was the time-honoured gripe that the bigger clubs tend to get the bigger decisions. He was particularly vexed for Agbonlahor, who enjoyed a good first half against Chelsea's defence following his Carling Cup testing of Vidic. 'We're just not going to play him in the next one,'' sighed O'Neill.
Villa's manager added that he hoped Terry would apologise to Milner. 'That would be something James and John Terry could be talking about. It [the challenge] was desperately poor and I'm just delighted James was still fit to play. He could have been out a long, long time. I just want Milner to take his rightful place in that squad to go to South Africa.''
If Milner was the pick of the Villa bunch, Terry had a strong game for Chelsea, largely coping well with John Carew, and staining his game only with that hideous foul. Terry has been through some storms this season, many of his own making, but his resilience in the first half helped guide Chelsea through choppy waters.
The holders dominated the second period. When Richard Dunne, making his first mistake, headed a 69th-minute corner loosely to Terry, the defender's return shot was flicked home by Drogba. Terry having benefited from Webb's largesse, Chelsea exploited Villa's inevitable game-chasing commitment to attack with two late goals. Florent Malouda, hitherto quiet, swept home a Michael Ballack pass before Lampard, showing touch and composure, rolled in a ball from Nicolas Anelka.
The suggestion that Chelsea might crumble after going out to Inter and then struggling against Blackburn ignored the strength of character of individuals such as Terry, Lampard, Drogba and the manager, Carlo Ancelotti. After all the nonsense floating around about Ancelotti's perceived lack of quality, rather ignoring that he has masterminded as many Champions League triumphs as Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea have responded superbly.
'I am an optimist,'' said the genial Italian. 'I expected the team would have a very good reaction. We had a lot of problems but we never lost our confidence.'' From being perceived as on the brink of oblivion, Ancelotti now stands on the brink of history as the first Chelsea manager to do the Double. 'It is my desire,'' he said. 'It is our dream.''