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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 8, 2008

Villa wunderkinden are marked men, insists O'Neill

Martin O'Neill believes Aston Villa duo Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young have become marked men after terrorising Premier League defenders this season.

The duo have played a big part in Villa's push for a European spot and impressed sufficiently to earn England recognition from Fabio Capello although injury denied Agbonlahor the chance of making his debut.

O'Neill has seen the way opposing teams are now starting to double up when marking Young and Agbonlahor but knows it is all part of the learning process for the young pair.

He said: 'If you have been a surprise one season, you are given a bit more respect in the second year and players won't treat you so lightly.

'That has happened to Ashley and now almost inevitably it has happened to Gabby but he has still been able to elude good defenders. He has done very well.

'With Ashley, I think there has been a definite shift in terms of teams closing him down quickly.

'Even if playing against really top quality defenders, they are calling for a bit more help for themselves, getting midfielders to screen in front of them.

'They are making sure there is less distance from themselves to the keeper so someone like Ashley doesn't get that much space to run into. But it is up to good players to be able to see that and do something about that.'

O'Neill gave Young a free role during Saturday's 4-0 demolition of Bolton rather than just confining him to the left flank.

He said: 'We just let him play. He enjoys that. He can play down either wing. He can pick the ball up in the middle. He can conjure something for us.

'Ashley has set enormously high standards this season, so much so that the expectation when he picks the ball up is so high. I don't really want to tie him down (to a certain role).

'The problem about not tying him down is, if you are looking to go wide left, when actually Ashley is wide right, it might not be what you want.

'But he is capable of beating all defenders and it is a matter of getting him on the ball as close to the opposition goal as possible. He has the ability, the natural talent to be a top quality player for a long time.'