O’Neill tells Villa to keep eyes on the prize

LONDON - Martin O’Neill has no worries about the League Cup final later this month being a distraction to his players as they bid for a Champions League qualifying place.

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By (AFP)

Published: Fri 5 Feb 2010, 11:15 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 4:04 AM

But the Northern Irishman has more than a slight concern that his squad may be casting too many glances at the form of their rivals, rather than concentrating on stringing together the kind of consistent form that can carry them into the top four.

The Villa manager and his squad will get the chance to take a real close-up view of one of their main rivals at White Hart Lane, hoping to take advantage of Spurs’ midweek FA Cup exertions against Leeds United and bolster their position in a scramble to join Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal in next season’s Champions League.

Another victory in the capital, to follow up last weekend’s success against Fulham will lift Villa above Spurs ahead of another crucial contest with their League Cup final opponents, Manchester United, in the league on Wednesday.

“The League Cup final will take care of itself and that is not a problem,” O’Neill said. “What I do think is that we have to keep an eye on ourselves and not worry too much about what’s happening elsewhere.

“We can’t escape talk of the top four and our challenge at the moment and it is pretty crazy for us to keep getting mentioned. Tottenham are particularly strong for starters.

“Liverpool, by virtue of beating us recently, put themselves right back in it again, not that I ever thought they were out of it, I just think that they will be a threat because they’re Liverpool. And then there’s Manchester City.”

Despite ending 2009 with back-to-back league defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool, Villa are unbeaten in 2010 in league and cup, having also reached the fifth round of the FA Cup.

But they will have to deal with an England striker on a mission at White Hart Lane without defender Stephen Warnock, who is still struggling with a shin injury that is threatening his Wembley participation.

Jermain Defoe has set himself a target of overhauling England colleague Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba, to secure the Premier League golden boot trophy.

Following his hat-trick that ended Leeds United’s hopes of an FA Cup upset at Elland Road on Wednesday evening, Defoe now has 20 goals in all competitions, just two short of his best total, achieved in the 2004-05 season.

He has 15 in the Premier League, the same as Chelsea’s Drogba. The duo are five behind Rooney, but Defoe is confident he can make up the defecit.

“If I do get it, it would be great for everyone,” he said. “I just want to keep it going. It is at the back of my mind.

“In terms of goals, this season has been great. When you’re playing with good players, you know you’ll get the chances, so you just have to score.

“More importantly, I’m thinking about the team, and hopefully trying to make us better. If I’m scoring goals, it helps the team, so I’ll continue to try to do that.

“When the other forwards in the division are scoring goals, you want to make sure you’re doing that as well. As a striker, it’s what you’re judged on, so that’s all I want to do. If I play well and work hard, then I know I’ll get my goals.”

Villa are hoping to have Norway striker John Carew available for the trip to White Hart Lane following his recovery from a knee injury.

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