Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill conceded that there were signs of fatigue among his players during Saturday’s fortuitous Premier League victory at West Ham.
Villa rode their luck on occasions and had to rely on a 78th-minute James Milner cross, defected in off Hammers defender Lucas Neill, for their winning goal at Upton Park.
O’Neill recalled the eight first-teamers he rested from Uefa Cup duty in Hamburg in midweek, although even some of those players looked jaded, according to the manager.
However, O’Neill maintains that some tiredness is inevitable for a squad who kicked off their competitive campaign with Intertoto Cup football in July and have barely had a break since.
“I thought we looked a bit tired,” admitted the manager. “Not just some of the players we played out in Hamburg, but actually some of the boys I left behind.
“We’ll try and address that, but we have been on the go since July in competitive football.
“That’s just a bit of concern, but I’m only throwing that up to you, just in case we don’t win another game.”
O’Neill has been encouraged, in recent matches, of Villa’s growing ability to emerge victorious from games even when they perform some way below their best.
The manager admits his team’s display was nowhere near the level of their win at Arsenal last month and suggested grinding out results was a positive development.
“I’m really ecstatic we’ve won the game and we’ve got a bit of good fortune, I’ll accept that,” said O’Neill.
“At that stage of the game when we did score you’d have thought if anybody was going to get a goal at that time it looked like West Ham.
“We’ve won and we definitely can play much better. We didn’t play half as well as we did at The Emirates and everybody will say that’s a good sign. If it is a good sign, I’ll take it.”
Former England coach Terry Venables was the latest pundit to talk up Villa’s Champions League chances and even suggested they should aim higher than merely finishing fourth.
A victory which places Villa in the top three at Christmas for the first time since 1998 would seem to vindicate the optimism Venables’ displayed in his national newspaper column.
However, O’Neill, ever the master at playing down any hype surrounding his teams, attempted to deflect the praise and any added pressure using his trademark humour.
“I took that as a real compliment, it’s really nice,” said O’Neill. “I must phone Terry up and say what are you talking about?! He’s been round the block, he must have been round the block to say that!”
O’Neill also reserved praise for James Milner, who played a major part in the fortunate winner, when his late cross clipped Neill and the flight off the ball left West Ham keeper Robert Green stranded.
Milner had won his manager’s admiration by hauling himself off his sickbed to play in the victories over Everton and Bolton Wanderers despite hardly training because of flu-like symptoms.
“I live him, he’s great,” added O’Neill. “He’s got a heart the size of a lion.”