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Feb 27, 2009

O'Neill plans to make Villa stronger for next season

Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill has admitted he must add to his creaking squad to cope with the demands of European football next season.

Villa are almost assured of another season of continental competition though he hopes for Champions League football rather than the UEFA Cup.

O'Neill decided to field what was largely a reserve side as Villa went out of the UEFA Cup at the hands of CSKA Moscow on Thursday night. It follows a tough season which began in the Intertoto Cup in July with the boss finally deciding finishing in the top four was more important than European football's secondary competition.

Villa handed a debut to Marc Albrighton and also gave rare run-outs to Barry Bannan and Moustapha Salifou as they lost 2-0 in Russia.

O'Neill, who faced the wrath of fans who paid around £1,000 to make the long trip and only see the club's fringe players in action, does not regret the decision. But he knows that if they are to progress next season they need greater strength in depth to cope with the demands of European football.

"I am now hoping, this time next year, if we get the chance again, we will be really strong,'' insisted O'Neill. "We will need to be as strong as the top British teams who have been in this position before, like Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.

"I want to have the strength of squad to cope with the fixtures that come up.

"Given another opportunity, something this football club should be able to obtain, I think the experiences we've had, from July (the Intertoto Cup) through to now, will stand this team in good stead.''

At least in Albrighton and Bannan he has two promising players for the future, and they were at least one positive he could take away from his first trip to Moscow.

"We had two players making their first starts in wide positions and I thought they did exceptionally well,'' added O'Neill. "We were always in the game until the last minute and we always felt we were capable of scoring a goal, and we had one or two opportunities to do so.

"We have tried our utmost and, although it was not to be, in terms of team effort and what the young players gave, I was delighted.''

But the talking point will long remain his team selection, the full consequences of which will only be known come the end of the season.

"I'm disappointed we've gone out of the competition, but we've played a lot of games this year, 11 or 12 more than we did throughout the whole of last season,'' reflected O'Neill.

"It's not a decision that was taken lightly, and if I had thought of playing just young players then we would not have travelled here on Tuesday and stayed the three nights.

"Circumstances forced me into making my decision and, whilst I am disappointed we were beaten, I will have to see what the rest of the season brings to see if that disappointment is worsened.''

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