THE opportunity to ask whether Martin O’Neill’s eclectic music catalogue includes Joni Mitchell, alongside The Clash and Leonard Cohen, has not yet presented itself.
However, where the subject of striker John Carew is concerned, the Aston Villa manager may wish to familiarise himself with Mitchell’s pop hit, Big Yelllow Taxi.
Not the bit about paving paradise – O’Neill is still some way off concreting a claret and blue utopia at Villa Park – but the lyrics: ‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?’.
O’Neill and his Villa players have never under-estimated Carew’s contribution to the team although, after gaining four points from Arsenal and Manchester United, it was clear they could, on occasion, cope without him.
However, the big Norwegian was a substitute for those two games and in hindsight his mere presence on the bench might even have played its part, albeit a tiny one, in the positive results.
Only when Carew was completely unavailable for selection during last Saturday’s scoreless stalemate against Fulham did Villa’s need for the towering target-man truly arise.
Never mind the countless chances Villa squandered against Roy Hodgson’s Cottagers, the ‘biggest miss’ was surely the absence of Carew, sidelined by a back problem.
“I said last week six or seven weeks ago us playing without John Carew for a length of time would cause us a lot of concern,” said O’Neill, before discussing Carew’s importance in breaking down defensive-minded opponents.
“We’ve got through that but against Fulham I think that Carew would have given us something that eventually we lacked.
“We still need him. Manchester United, as is their want, will come and want to play and when Arsenal came out to play we got an opportunity. Now that is not in any way criticising anybody coming to defend. It’s up to us to break it down. It’s up to us to entertain. It’s up to us to do all of those things.
“But in games like that John Carew would be pretty essential to us.”
On aerial chances that Villa missed, O’Neill added: “We’ve got some really good, gifted wide players and, had John Carew been in there, let’s be fair, he’s a much better header of the ball than some of the people that we had there. That’s absolutely no disrespect, so he might have got on the end of one or two.”
One of those “really good, gifted wide players”, to whom the manager refers, is Ashley Young. The winger admits he has had to try to change his own style of play now that the focal point of his crosses from open play is out of action.
However, he is keen to point out that Villa do not over-rely on one player, be it Carew, himself or anybody else. “I’ve had to adapt to John being out of the team and the way we’ve adapted has been really good,” Young said. “Of course with John out of the team it’s a different formation that we’ve been playing and the way we’ve been set up.
“John’s been brilliant for us since he’s been here but whether a player drops out the team or we change the formation, everybody can adapt to that.”