Sport Soccer

Sunday 17 December 2017

O'Neill puts stars' health before glory

Sandy Macaskill

MARTIN O'NEILL has said he is not prepared to gamble with the future health of his players in a single-minded endeavour to break into the top four of the Premier League this season in the wake of injuries to Gabby Agbonlahor, Richard Dunne and now James Milner.

O'Neill accepts that Agbonlahor, who is out with ligament damage in his foot, and Dunne, who is suffering from an Achilles problem, have been playing through the pain barrier. However, he stressed that he will not ask them or Milner, who has picked up an unspecified niggle, to risk their long-term fitness in order to maximise the club's chances of qualifying for the Champions League.

"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 an injury that is going to plague them."

It does not mean that O'Neill is conceding defeat in the quest for fourth, however. Villa are unbeaten in the league since their 1-0 defeat to Liverpool in December, and could even go fifth should they win by two clear goals against Sunderland this evening.

That said, a defeat would almost certainly end their challenge. "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.

Asked who he considers to be favourites to finish fourth, 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."

Irish Independent

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