Aston Villa can finally begin to think about their InterToto Cup preparations with the first games of the competition due to kick-off this weekend.
Northern Irish side Lisburn Distillery and Finnish side TPS Turku kick off the first round this weekend at Lisburn’s Ballymena Showground, with the winner of that two-legged contest set to meet Danish side Odense BK.
The winner of that encounter will then meet Villa in the third-round stage, with the Danish side favourites to be their opponents over two legs.
The first leg sees Villa travel away from home on July 19 before the return match at Villa Park on Saturday July 26. That match, the club confirmed yesterday, will now kick-off at 5.15pm and is being televised live by Setanta sports.
Meanwhile, Villa boss Martin O’Neill has revealed that he has his sights firmly set on some key targets to bolster his thread-bare squad, even though he has yet to make his first summer signing.
Midfielder Steve Sidwell has been lined up to speak to Villa after the club offered Chelsea £5.5 million for the player but he is away on holiday in Dubai and not due back until today.
O’Neill has also been linked with almost 100 other stars over the summer, with the latest big names to emerge including West Ham United defender Anton Ferdinand and striker Darren Bent, who signed for Tottenham Hotspur for £16.5 million last summer from Charlton but has failed to live up to his billing at White Hart Lane.
O’Neill, however, has insisted there will be no panic buys.
Villa are already playing a waiting game over whether or not Liverpool will come in with a fourth and final bid for skipper Gareth Barry and O’Neill said: “It all takes a bit of time.
“We’ve got targets in mind, of course, and want to do business as promptly as we possibly can.
“But the people we want to try and improve this club are players you can almost automatically assume are key players at other football clubs. These are people it might be difficult to prise out of their current clubs.
“We need to improve our squad and I know that. But it’s a fact that improving the squad gets harder as you progress.
“We’ve just finished sixth in the Premier League and I think the supporters will agree that we have progressed over the last two years. To improve on what we now have means bringing in even more quality – the competition for quality players can be fierce.”