What's Next? The Doc's Prescription

I was gutted that Everton won at Craven Cottage, and I really didn't think they would. As a die-hard O'Neill fan, I'd have loved the Ulsterman to take us a place further up the table as well as securing us two points more than last season.

But, I guess, progress is progress. A second top six finish in two seasons is not to be sniffed at and when O'Neill came in, I reckon very few of us would not have snapped his hand off if he'd offered us near parity with Everton two years running.


But the curve is flattening, and we need a definitive plan now to see Everton off and make ourselves the pole position challengers to the Big 4. That will be difficult. It will need investment, intelligence but above all strategy. What do I mean by that?

In the past three seasons, O'Neill has set his stall out to recruit young British players, primarily from Stuart Pearce's England U21 squad and the fringes of the full England side. On the whole, these players - who granted cost a bit more than foreign recruits captured through clever global scouting - have done well.

Few would question the investments in Curtis Davies, Ashley Young and James Milner - who hopefully will grow into full England internationals within twelve months. At least that would seem the thinking of one Fabio Capello.

You would also be hard pushed to question the manager's retention of Gabby Agbonlahor and Craig Gardner: neither are anything like the finished article, but both should have immensely bright futures at Villa Park if they have the right levels of experience alongside them.

And therein lies O'Neill's issue. He's got to keep our best young talent, but the spine of the team is creaking. Friedel's only got a season left (if that); Laursen's retired injured; Barry may well be off to Anfield or the Emirates and Heskey and Carew are, well, no spring chickens.

But there are massive positives: Curtis Davies has looked imperious at times, and only lost his sheen when Laursen got injured. Stan Petrov has been a revelation, and to me deserves the captain's armband next season. Put some decent players around them, and buy a goalscorer - and Villa are not far off.

So this is my view...before the crazy rumour mill even starts.

I'd like O'Neill to buy Steven Taylor from Newcastle. I think he's a top central defender, would fit in well in the dressing room with his ex- England U21 colleagues, would be excellent alongside Curtis and - as an aside - is one of the only Newcastle players who seems to have been "up for it" in the run in.

I wouldn't buy any full backs: Shorey and Young are top notch when they're given a run in the side.

In midfield, I think O'Neill has made mistakes. I think Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwell were excellent signings, but haven't been given sufficient time on the field and have also been mostly played out of position. Given their legs, I think they'd form a great three man centre midfield around Stan. You lot will all disagree - that's fine.

I do think we need a "lock picker" in the squad...and to be fair to MON, I think he recognised that and that's why he first a) kept Patrik Berger and then b) bought Shaun Maloney. My own view is that we should buy Stewart Downing from Boro as a left winger and play Ashley Young in that nightmare role for defenders. You all know it: the Peter Beardsley, Kenny Dalglish role.

And up front? Just find us a genuine goalscorer, Martin. And I hope your scouts have been working hard ... because here I can't see anything on our islands that is going to make a real difference to the Villa. But it's certainly not Heskey.

This is the position, in my view, that will transform Villa from an also-ran to a contender. I think the club has put pretty well everything else in place - but we are desperate for a goalscoring hero.

Any ideas, anyone?