Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill is backing Steve Sidwell to recover from his own goal misery by becoming a regular scorer at the appropriate end of the field.
The industrious midfielder’s competitive Villa debut was blighted by the cruel deflection that handed Odense a way back into Saturday’s 2-2 InterToto Cup draw in Denmark.
Sidwell’s embarrassing error, which owed much to the former Chelsea player’s commendable willingness to track back and defend, was a turning point in the third round first-leg.
John Carew had given Villa an early lead which was cancelled out by Sidwell’s own goal before a Martin Laursen header to restore the advantage was equalised by a late Anders Moller Christensen strike.
But Villa manager O’Neill is refusing to blame the £5 million acquisition for the freak mistake, which handed the Danish top-flight side the initiative at the Fionia Park stadium.
Up until then Sidwell had been the focal point of a high-tempo start by Villa, although the individual and the collective team did struggle from that point onwards.
“It must have come to him very quickly because he couldn’t adjust. It just hit him and went into the net,” said O’Neill of Sidwell’s own goal.
“He’s got into the side, he can get a few challenges in and get forward.“I was really pleased with him. I think he’s capable of scoring a few goals. Obviously we’ve got to try and play him in that role where he can maybe get forward to do that.”
Sidwell has been a virtual spectator for the last 12 months of his career after his move to Chelsea reduced him to the role of bit-part player.
O’Neill is of the opinion that the energetic 25-year-old former Arsenal trainee will improve with every game that he plays for his new club.
Establishing how best to accommodate Sidwell in a midfield including Nigel Reo-Coker and Stiliyan Petrov is also a dilemma for the manager.
“We’ve got lots still to do, lots to figure out how best to utilise him at this moment,” said O’Neill. “I’m hoping that if we can get strong enough that everybody’s really fighting for positions here.
“I think he can improve all round, just his general play. First of all he hasn’t played for basically a year, he’s been in and out. He played in Odense, he’s got a bit of athleticism and can get up and down, but we’ll see. I was very pleased with him.”
With his Villa team worryingly short of options and captain Gareth Barry unlikely to be considered for selection, O’Neill will need Sidwell to be at his best for Saturday’s second leg against Odense at Villa Park.
The manager will remind his players of their achievement in finishing sixth in the Premier League last season and caution them against undoing their good work by falling at the first European hurdle.
“You play all of last year for a game two weeks into your pre-season and I’ve never had it before to play this competitively so early,” added O’Neill.
“Just getting through the tie is everything for us and that would be disappointing if we didn’t make it, but overall I’m pretty pleased although obviously I’d be delighted if we would have kept that last one out.
“We’ve drawn the game and scored two goals away from home. Considering the circumstances I’m reasonably satisfied. By the time we play them again next week we should be much fitter.”
O’Neill is still working to bolster his team in time for the start of the Premier League season and hopes to welcome Blackburn Rovers’ American international goalkeeper Brad Friedel for a £2.5m fee in the next few days.