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By ESPN Staff

O'Neill vows to treat FA Cup with "dignity"

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has vowed to treat the FA Cup ''with the dignity it deserves'' by fielding his strongest possible side in Sunday's third-round clash at Gillingham.

O'Neill never progressed beyond the quarter-finals as a player and is conscious Villa have encountered little success in the competition since reaching the 2000 final.

But he is not expecting an easy ride at the Priestfield Stadium despite Villa occupying fourth spot in the Premier League after an eight-game unbeaten run.

O'Neill said: ''Our record since 2000, when Villa reached the final, has not been so clever. I have been responsible for the last couple of years of that when we played Manchester United.

''I saw Gillingham play last week against Wycombe and thought they played exceptionally well in the second half. I accept it will be a totally different game - even if they hadn't played well - and I wouldn't want to go out.

''I want to treat the competition with the dignity it deserves and am desperate to get through.

''I accept the top Premier League sides in recent years have accepted the Champions League is the Holy Grail and maybe the FA Cup has been lessened from that viewpoint.

''The competition is really dear to me. I'd love to do well. It was something I never won as a player and it would be great to do well in it.''

In addition to chasing a Champions League spot, Villa are through to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup with a tricky tie ahead against CSKA Moscow.

But O'Neill is fully focused on the FA Cup for the time being although he has a couple of players injured from the single-goal win at Hull who are doubtful although he is refusing to identify them.

He said: ''At the moment, we are going fine in the league, the UEFA Cup is not until the end of February, so there is plenty of time to think about that.

''I was speaking to the players and this is a game they want to try and get through. They really do. I think they are ready for the game and it will be great for us to go to Gillingham.

''With frost setting in, it might be a difficult pitch. We are ready to go and the players are ready to play.''

O'Neill admits the FA Cup was always a competition to treasure when he was a youngster.

He said: ''I grew up at a time when the FA Cup was the only live game on TV for years and years and you built yourself up to watch it.

''You sat in for about three hours on the TV beforehand. You never missed. It was the first time I knew what 'Abide With Me' was. It was great.

''Of course, things change. There is live television, priorities change. The FA Cup has unfortunately taken a bit of a back seat but it is still a great competition.

''Our fixture is the type of fixture that years ago would have been one to not miss, a top division side going to play at a side a couple of leagues below them and in danger of being knocked out.''

O'Neill added: ''The furthest I got as a player was the quarter-finals with Nottingham Forest a couple of times. In 1974 we were leading 3-1 when the Newcastle crowd invaded the pitch at St James' Park and we got beaten 4-3.

''The authorities made the game be replayed at Goodison Park and, when we drew the replayed game, they made us play at Goodison Park again rather than the City Ground.

''Forest then lost at the same stage when going brilliantly, against West Brom, and there was also a quarter-final with Notts County.''

Skipper Martin Laursen (knee), fellow defender Carlos Cuellar (hamstring) and striker John Carew (back) are again ruled out against the Gills.

But O'Neill played down reports in Norway that Carew would be sidelined for the remainder of the season.

He said: ''John is doing okay. To get medical advice, I would prefer to get it from my doctor at the club rather than John Carew's agent who lives in Norway.

''Will he need surgery? No. He is doing pretty well. He is doing okay. We are taking it stage by stage but, for the agent to say he is going to miss the rest of the season, would not be true.''

O'Neill insisted that he has made no moves for Jermain Defoe despite continuing to be linked with the Portsmouth striker who looks favourite to move back to Tottenham.

He said: ''I am not in for Defoe. I've only said it about 14 times.''


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