Martin O’Neill has expressed his relief at Aston Villa’s progression into the knockout stages of the Uefa Cup despite last night’s surprise defeat to Slovakian side MSK Zilina.

 Villa, who made eight changes from the team that drew 0-0 with Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday, lost 2-1 to the Group F underdogs at Villa Park.

 However, the six points they gained from victories over Ajax and Slavia Prague were enough to see them through to the final 32 of the competition after Hamburg beat Prague.

 O’Neill’s team must now travel to Hamburg later this month to establish where they will finish in the group and what standard of opposition they will face in the next round.  

 “I thought that we started off rather disjointedly,” said O’Neill, whose Villa team trailed 2-0 after 19 minutes before debutant Nathan Delfouneso pulled a goal back.

 “But I felt that we exerted a lot of pressure, especially in the second-half and I thought we were going to equalise.

 “Zilina played very well, but we’re through and I’m delighted.”

 O’Neill insisted that his much-changed team had not underestimated their opponents and suggested Villa still possessed sufficient quality to have won the game even without many of their first-choice players.

 “I was disappointed but nothing really shocks me any more in football,” he said. “This was an opportunity

for some players in our squad to play. I still hoped that we could win the game even with the team that we had. This was our idea of rotation.

 “Zilina must think to themselves, if they played so well against us, what happened in the other matches?

 “I have seen them play. I have all the matches since the group started so I knew that they were very good footballers.

 “It was a concern to change the team so much, but we had six pouints already so that’s why we did it.

 “I’m obviously disappointed with the goals that we conceded but we put a ferocious effort in in the second-half.”

O’Neill paid tribute to Delfouneso who effortlessly made the step up to senio football with what proved to be Villa’s consolation goal in the 27th minute.

 “I’m thrilled that we’re through and I thought that some of the players including ‘D’ came out of it with flying colours.

 “So I’m disappointed to have lost but absolutely delighted to have gone through.”