FOOTBALL : Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill insisted it was worth waiting for Stewart Downing’s full debut after the England winger helped guide the club within sight of Wembley.
Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill insisted it was worth waiting for Stewart Downing’s full debut after the England winger helped guide the club within sight of Wembley.
Downing netted against Portsmouth in his first Villa start, with the 4-2 victory at Fratton Park sealing a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals. The 25-year-old has just recovered from a fractured foot and O’Neill believes there is more to come from the player he signed in the summer knowing he would miss the first part of the season.
“His performance suggests he was worth the wait,” said O’Neill. “It was really fantastic. He is not really properly fit yet. That was 20 minutes against Burnley, nothing against Tottenham on Saturday night, but I was always going to start him in this match.”
He added: “I was really pleased with him. What pleased me most was his ability on the ball. He can manoeuvre it, he can play and he’s got a turn of pace when he’s fully wound up.
“Properly fit, he’ll be a proper player for us.”
O’Neill won the competition twice at Leicester and has seen the effect silverware has on the club, with Villa looking for their first major trophy since 1996. He also feels this cup has grown in importance this season.
He added: “As the Champions League seems to have grown in stature the League Cup has lost a bit of its lustre. But if you’d seen the line-up for the quarter-finals, it was very strong indeed.
“The competition seems to have galvanised itself again, with Chelsea and United wanting to win it. Manchester City are very strong, Arsenal are still there. It’s particularly pleasing to be in there with that group of teams.
“It would be nice to win a trophy. It was particularly pleasing to do that at Leicester. Of course, it re-energised the football club and gave it a new status.
“With Villa, who have won this on quite a few occasions, it would be nice to be contesting it.”