BY MAT KENDRICK
Martin O’Neill insists Aston Villa will regard fifth place in the Premier League as an improvement following the collapse of their ambitious Champions League challenge.
Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Gary Megson’s Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium was Villa’s 12th successive league and cup match without a victory.
The frustrating run of results equals the worst winless sequence of O’Neill’s claret and blue tenure since midway through his first season in 2006-07.
It has ended any lingering hopes of gatecrashing the top four with Arsenal’s victory over Middlesbrough yesterday extending their advantage to ten points.
Villa thought they were destined for their first win in nine league matches when Ashley Young opened the scoring with a fortuitous strike just before half-time.
However, Bolton’s Tamir Cohen equalised in the second-half to force O’Neill’s men to settle for a point in their first league away draw of the season.
Everton’s 2-1 home defeat to Manchester City means that Villa now hold a two-point lead over the Merseysiders in the battle for fifth position.
“It’s disappointing to concede the goal but on the whole we gained a point on Everton and we still retained fifth spot,” said O’Neill, whose team finished sixth last season.
Asked if the Bolton result signalled the end of Villa’s chances of reeling in Arsenal, O’Neill replied: “I’d have thought so.
“Mathematically I suppose it would still be possible, but we had to win to give ourselves any chance and even if we’d have done so who’s to say?
“But if we can finish fifth, I suppose by league table definition you’ve improved again. I think we need a couple of more points to be certain of finishing in the top six, but overall I’m delighted with the team. In the recent games we’ve played which is Manchester United away, Everton at home, West Ham at home, I would have said the Bolton game probably would have been our least effective going forward.
“We created umpteen chances against West Ham and against Everton the week before and at Old Trafford we played really well, so in terms of the elusive win I’m hoping it’s round the corner, but I think we’re on the whole playing pretty well.”
Meanwhile, Young insists he did not intend his first goal in 18 games since Villa’s 4-2 victory over Villa Park in December.
“It was definitely a cross,” said Young. “It’s all about putting the ball in the danger area, which is exactly what I’ve done and it’s gone in.”