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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 14, 2009

O'Neill's squad to be tested to its limits

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has admitted his entire first-team squad will come into contention for a crucial run of three games in six days which could define their season.

Villa begin their schedule with an FA Cup tie at Everton with a doubt surrounding the fitness of Emile Heskey after he aggravated an Achilles injury on England duty in Spain.

They then entertain CSKA Moscow in the first leg of a UEFA Cup clash on Wednesday before playing host to Chelsea on Saturday lunchtime in a game which is vital to their hopes of obtaining a Champions League spot.

O'Neill again stressed that the Barclays Premier League remains his "Holy Grail'' with Villa lying in third spot - two points ahead of the Londoners - and it is in that match that he will want all his big guns available.

But he is asking the other members of his squad to step up to the plate for the two cup clashes.

O'Neill said: "The FA Cup game would be important for us and it is first up in a difficult week for us. We have three games in six days and it is a tough task for us.

"It is a period when the whole squad will come into the equation. They are going to have to be involved.

"You know my view on the FA Cup. I love it, the competition is fantastic and we have managed for the first time in a year or two to get past the third and fourth rounds which has been great.

"The record of this club should be better in the competition but the Premier League is the Holy Grail and that is where we have got momentum going and that would be pretty important to us.

"Will that influence selection for next two games? I'll have a think about it.''

O'Neill added: "We have got to try to keep going. It was always going to be a problem in terms of the size of the squad.

"However, in really big games, it gives an opportunity for players to step up to the plate and that is all I can ask.

"Here we are, in mid-February, in three competitions. In a fortnight we might just be in one. That is something I have been used to as a player in the past.

"I am not so sure about this period shaping the season. The momentum in the Premier League is very important and we want to try to keep it going.''

O'Neill is to make his feelings known to England counterpart Fabio Capello after expressing surprise that Heskey started against Spain when not fully fit.

Heskey suffered the Achilles injury at Blackburn last weekend but was declared fit enough by the England medical staff to play after reporting for Wednesday's game in Seville.

O'Neill said: "Emile has aggravated his Achilles. I was surprised he started the England game considering he wouldn't have been fully fit.

"I can understand it if it was a qualifying game because they are very important to the wellbeing of the country. But you would have thought rest this particular week would have been the order of the day.

"I have spoken to the England doctor and voiced some concerns and I will speak to the manager.''

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