Football

O'Neill stands by selection policy

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Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill claims his decision to concentrate on Champions League qualification is based on footballing rather than financial reasons.

O'Neill again found himself having to defend fielding a weakened side in last week's UEFA Cup tie against CSKA Moscow after Villa were held to a 2-2 home draw by Stoke in Sunday's Barclays Premier League clash.

O'Neill said: "I took the decision to do what I did (in Moscow). People seem to forget that in every FA Cup game we've gone as strongly as possible. On the basis of what is ahead of us, I made the decision. I made the decision and if, for example, other teams play weakened teams in the League Cup and don't win, are they going to be pilloried for the rest of their lives?"

His reasoning for leaving eight senior players behind when travelling to Russia looked justified when Villa led 2-0 with only three minutes remaining at Villa Park through goals from Stiliyan Petrov and John Carew.

But Stoke hit back with late efforts from Ryan Shawcross and Glenn Whelan to leave Villa six points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal with 11 games remaining.

O'Neill added: "We went really strongly in the first game against CSKA and tried to get ourselves in front and then we looked a bit tired in the following game against Chelsea.

"We went this season to get into the UEFA Cup to show we are making some progress at this football club. We were in the last 32 and it is still a long way from home. It wasn't the last 16 or the last eight.

"I might have had a different thought if it were down to the last eight at that stage. I admit that. Had we won against Stoke, it wouldn't have been a vindication of what I did. It would have been a reason."

Asked if the financial rewards of the Champions League had come into his thoughts, O'Neill added: "Absolutely not. For me it is to do with the kudos of attempting to battle it out there.

"Not for one minute do I think the UEFA Cup is unimportant. But in terms of priority, I had to make a decision. I am a football manager and that is my job."

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Topics:
Europa League
Arsenal
European News
Stoke City
Football
John Carew
League Cup
Stiliyan Petrov
Chelsea
Ryan Shawcross
Premier League
UEFA Champions League
Aston Villa
Glenn Whelan
FA Cup

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