Double D-Day for Martin O'Neill

I think there's been too much idle talk recently - but then my views are well known. It's my opinion that there's insufficient evidence to hail Martin O'Neil as a truly "great" manager and the key to unlocking a rich Villa future, but I also think the case for him being a poor manager, or one undeserving of our current trust, is shaky to say the least.

I've enjoyed this season so far. I didn't enjoy the thumping at Chelsea any more than any other Villain, and I've also witnessed some dead-pan performances which we could have done without.

On the other hand, the second-leg games against Blackburn and Reading were not only exciting, but for periods of 30 or 40 minutes in each one, showed just what this new Villa side can do when they're in the zone.

At our very best, no team can live with us: and to prove that point, a Manchester United fan and fellow coach commented after the Carling Cup Final that they couldn't cope with our pace and movement for much of the first half at Wembley, and that we should have been out of sight after 30 minutes.

I guess that's no more than food for thought.


Martin O'Neill has brought players to our club who I look forward to watching, week-in, week-out. They have their dips in form, and most are young and still learning their trade, but can any genuine Villa fan not say that the sense of anticipation now is greater than it has been for years...before every game?

That's because we have players in our side who can really make things happen. Whatever you think of England's strength in depth, it's not a coincidence that Fabio Capello and his entourage are such regular visitors to B6. Is it?

But, at the same time, we have to voice our growing distress at what looks like repeated mistakes. I'm an FA Level 2 coach currently taking Level 3, and I want to show solidarity with and respect for a coach who is by far my superior. But for all my positivity, there are squares I just can't circle.

Squad Depth

MON is on record as saying over and over again that the lack of depth in his squad has been a key contributor to the traditional slide in form and results in the New Year and beyond. But he's bought players of the quality of Reo-Coker, Sidwell, Luke Young etc and left them to rot in the reserves and on the bench.

Here we need some answers: were they not the signings he really wanted? did they disappoint once they arrived at Bodymoor? Did he ever really intend to play them? I wonder.

Use of Substitutes

As it seems right now, Villa don't seem to be able to use tactical substitutions to change the pattern of a game - unless that means sticking another big man up front and hitting it long. Surely a truly great manager would be more creative than that - perhaps sometimes, for example, slotting Ashley Young inside behind Heskey or Carew to trouble a defence sitting deep.

Subs seem to be for players injured or knackered, but rarely to change a game.

Balance

Why does MON persist in playing his favourite players, even out of position? It was clear not only to fans, but also to opposing managers - for example - that Carlos Cuellar (a great centre back and a great signing at centre back), had some positional difficulties in the right full back position.

He can be turned easily by a decent winger, and doesn't have the pace to cover him. To add to that, his distribution of the ball isn't good enough for a full back and he can get caught forward. So why on earth leave a quality full back like Luke Young on the bench?

So, there are indeed some concerns. It may be that Martin O'Neill can't change, and that these are the fatal flaws in his managerial make-up which will ultimately prevent him, and Villa, from breaking into the top four.

Who knows? I certainly don't presume to know...in fact I rather suspect that Martin O'Neill simply wants more money to build a squad with Young-Milner-Downing quality on the bench as well as on the field.

Two games are coming up in the next 10 days or so which, for me, are vital for Martin.

First, Saturday's FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Like Damian, I think it's certain we won't get hammered again. And I also have an inkling that Wembley's wide open spaces can play to Villa's strengths - providing we don't just go all out in the first 20 like we did against United. We've beaten Chelsea this season, and we can beat them again.

Secondly, the home game against Everton. David Moyes has done a super job at Everton on limited resources, but he's been trying to crack the top four for a long time - largely without success. Everybody likes him as a manager - but why is he, supposedly, so much better than Martin O'Neill?

Results? League position? Motivation?

Actually, there's no basis at all. And Moyes himself is on record as saying what a fine manager Martin O'Neill is. Although I have to say I'm not sure he's spoken to Simeon yet - who knows a bit more than David Moyes, as we all accept.

Anyway - it's a crunch game and Everton will be after us. If we can play our stuff and defeat them, a lot of the cynicism will evaporate pretty quickly.

So it's Double-D-Day for O'Neill I guess: put up a fine performance at Wembley, and then beat Everton at Villa Park.

Maybe then we can engage in a more balanced debate. If we get stuffed twice, I'm off for the long grass.