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Don't risk disaster

VILLA boss Martin O'Neill will tell Richard Dunne and his crocked star players NOT to play through the pain barrier for the chance of Champions League football.

O'Neill is struggling to put out his best team against Sunderland in the Premier League at Villa Park tonight as the battle for fourth place takes on a new intensity.

But O'Neill will not put the future health of his players at risk and has told injury doubts Dunne, Gabby Agbonlahor and James Milner not to hide the extent of their current problems.

“The one thing I don't want to do here is jeopardise people's careers,” he said. “I don't want anyone to play with some sort of injury that is going to plague them.”

However, O'Neill, like Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, believes that the season is now at the make or break stage and that victory over the Black Cats is crucial to Villa's ambitions.

“If we want to be in at the deep end this is a game we have to go and try and win,” O'Neill said. “City don't have any other distractions, they have a fairly sizeable squad and are in a great position.

“But the thing about Tottenham is they have points on the board. “I couldn't rule Liverpool out at any stage.” City boss Mancini is describing his assignment against Everton as a mustwin game.


“The Everton game is crucial, if we win it I think we will have the most chance of finishing fourth,” Mancini said.

“I don't think Liverpool are out of the running yet, they can still come back and of course we must fight with Tottenham and Aston Villa as well, but after not starting the season well we are in a position where we can do something.

“All the games are really important now, and the next game most important of all. We have Emmanuel back for the Wigan game at the weekend and that should help, but we need to win against Everton first.

“We know what we have to do to reach fourth place, we must keep winning.” While the also-rans scrap it out for the crumbs from the Champions League table, Carlo Ancelotti will want a major bounce back from his players against Portsmouth after a short but disastrous dip in form.

But Ancelotti is not concerned about his future at Stamford Bridge: “I am here to change the history of this club. I have a very good relationship with the club and with Roman (Abramovich). My position is not under discussion.”