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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 8, 2006

Best is yet to come from Petrov - O'Neill

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill is confident midfielder Stiliyan Petrov will eventually produce his best form on a consistent basis.

O'Neill paid Celtic £8million in August to be reunited with the Bulgaria international who spent seven years at Parkhead.

The 27-year-old has only shown flashes of what he is capable of and will go into Monday's Barclays Premiership clash away to Sheffield United still searching for his first goal for Villa.

But O'Neill has complete faith in Petrov to be a key figure for Villa in the years to come.

O'Neill said: 'Stiliyan started brilliantly for us - as I was expecting - and did ever so well in the games early on against West Ham and Watford amongst others.

'That is the kind of form he would generally show pretty consistently. That's what I expect of him. He had a bit of a lull after that good start - but he is coming back.

'He had a bit of a hamstring problem after being excellent for us in the win at Everton and, when he came back against Middlesbrough the weekend before last, it was pretty tight during the game.

'Psychologically people do concern themselves coming back after a hamstring problem but that game did him the world of good. He is getting there for us and will be a big asset for this club.'

O'Neill added: 'I've got no problems with him. Yes, I would have expected him to have scored a goal or two by now but that will come.

'To score a goal or two will give him a natural boost of confidence - but he is not short of confidence.

'People have to adapt to the Premiership and Stiliyan is such a character that I would expect him to adapt very quickly - and he will do.

'We've seen glimpses of what he is capable of doing and he will hit that consistently when everything is right.'

O'Neill admitted that his side have to be firing on all cylinders in every game to maintain their current position in the top half of the Premiership.

He said: 'Overall I've been very pleased with the players but we have to be absolutely at full stretch at this minute to compete with any one of the sides because we can get turned over and I think we know it.

'Sometimes, despite the fact you might have a bit of confidence from the games, then thoughts of last season's struggle might come back. I prefer to stay with this year and try and drive it on from here.'

O'Neill will be without skipper Gareth Barry against the Blades as the utility player will be serving a one-match ban for incurring five bookings.

But the Villa chief is hopeful striker Chris Sutton may be available at Bramall Lane after missing the last three matches with a calf injury.

Juan Pablo Angel will be pushing for a return to the starting line-up after scoring his seventh goal of the season as a substitute in the 2-2 draw at Portsmouth.