Martin O’Neill believes new-look Wigan will provide his side with a tough test in tomorrow’s Barclays Premier League opener at Villa Park but insists he faces the new season with “hopes and aspirations”.
The Northern Irishman does at least have the luxury of a virtually fit squad with midfielder Stiliyan Petrov back from a dislocated shoulder injury.
The Bulgarian International, who is being tipped as the new Villa skipper following the departure of Gareth Barry to Manchester City in the summer and the retirement of Danish defender Martin Laursen, is in contention although right-back Luke Young will not play a part.
The former Middlesbrough man missed the entire pre-season build-up with a thigh strain and suffered a personal tragedy this week with the death of his half-brother Andre in a holiday accident.
“Stiliyan has done some training this week,” explained O’Neill. “I didn’t play him last week (against Fiorentina) but he is in much better shape now and feels as if he wants to give it a go.”
The Villa manager admitted it was a tough time for Luke Young.
“It has been a really frustrating time for Luke not able to play in pre-season and now he has had some very bad personal news in the last couple of days. It has been a bad time for him but in terms of trying to get fit at least I don’t think there are any major setbacks.”
O’Neill has former Newcastle defender Habib Beye available for the clash with new-look Wigan under new manager Roberto Martinez.
“I am excited by a new season again,” he said. “We have hopes and aspirations but then I am sure so do Wigan who have a new boss.
“They probably still have three-quarters of a team that I will know. I also know one or two of the players that he has brought in as well – players like Jason Scotland who played in the SPL and played against us when I was manager of Celtic.
“Their record at Villa Park in recent times has been very good.”