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O'Neill: Don't write off Villa
26 Feb 2009 - 08:27:53
Martin O'Neill believes the inexperienced Aston Villa side he has selected to face CSKA Moscow is more than capable of springing a UEFA Cup surprise.
O'Neill has left Gareth Barry, Brad Friedel, Emile Heskey, James Milner, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Carlos Cuellar and Stiliyan Petrov all at home after jetting off to Russia with a youthful side.
Last week's first leg in the last 32 tie ended in a 1-1 draw, but O'Neill has denied suggestions that his selection for Thursday's return leg has undermined their hopes of progressing in Europe.
"People are talking as if we're already out, but who is to say the players in the side tomorrow won't be able to turn this around?" he countered.
"We've still players with plenty of Premier League experience.
"We know we're going to have to score a goal and more than likely we're going to have to win the game.
"But we have a real fighting chance of doing that and that would be fantastic for us."
O'Neill has also hit back at critics who have suggested that his squad selection - with half an eye on maintaining their Premier League top four challenge - is a major disappointment.
He added: "It's amazing. Other teams have played weakened sides before and a little bit of criticism has passed.
"It seems as if it is sacrilegious, yet this is the first time we've done it and it seems to be lasting forever.
"Even in the first leg I played my strongest side to try and get us through.
"But then against Chelsea (a 1-0 defeat on Saturday) I thought we looked tired, so I've had to make decisions."