Martin O’Neill has challenged Aston Villa’s youthful stars Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor to continue the form which has earned them widespread recognition.
Young picked up the PFA Young Player of the Year award on Sunday, pipping his claret and blue team-mate Agbonlahor who was named as runner-up.
O’Neill believes Young’s award is a fitting reflection of the former Watford winger’s role in Villa’s constant presence in the Premier League top six this season.
“We’re absolutely delighted with him,” said the Villa manager. “He’s had a magnificent season and he’s come on leaps and bounds, even from last year.
“His confidence is sky-high and I think it’s so important when you’re a talented player to go out and play with confidence. It’s important, even when you make a few mistakes in the game, that your head’s not down and you still want the ball again.
“I’m delighted for him and with him, he’s very deserving of the award.”
Agbonlahor’s impact this season is also worthy of recognition, according to O’Neill, who has been delighted with the striker’s on-going development.
“Gabby was also in the reckoning and the two of them must be very pleased with themselves,” he said. “I think at this stage, where much attention is on Ashley, that in the scheme of things it’s been forgotten that Gabby kept us going by playing up front on his own for about three months of the year when John Carew was out.
“Great credit to the players, those two particularly have been doing fantastically well, but they must keep it going. You might turn around and think that this is a word of warning but it’s just avuncular advice more than anything else.”
Meanwhile, Villa expect Agbonlahor and Nigel Reo-Coker to overcome injuries to declare themselves available for Monday’s home match against Hull City.
However, O’Neill says Luke Young’s persistent foot problem has flared up and could plague the former Middlesbrough defender for the remainder of the season. “Nigel and Gabby should be fine,” he said. “Gabby has trained, although he did train last week to be fair, and still missed the Bolton game. It was a precaution that he didn’t play at the weekend because he just felt it, but I think he will be fine for Hull.
“Nigel has come in this week and has gradually done some work. He is feeling much, much better which is good news. He should be fine too.
“Luke has been sore for quite a number of weeks, playing with pain-killing injections. In the game against West Ham, he felt the injection wore off rather quickly but he played through it.
“I thought the best thing to do was to give him a rest. He’s been able to do that and we’ll look at him again towards the end of the week. He definitely feels better and is seeing the benefits of missing the game against Bolton. But we’ll see. It might be a problem that stays with him until the end of the season.”