Analysis of Peterborough 2 Villa 3

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Villa boss Martin O'Neill beat a hasty retreat from London Road after the game to maintain a summer of silence on his transfer plans.

Villa boss Martin O'Neill beat a hasty retreat from London Road after the game to maintain a summer of silence on his transfer plans.

The reclusive manager was up and away moments after watching his club's opening first-team friendly conclude with a pleasing enough 3-2 victory over Peterborough last night, distinguished by two sumptuous finishes and a statement of intent from one of the club's junior contenders.

O'Neill has avoided the Villa media pack since the last ball was kicked of the previous campaign, which perhaps says much about the sensitivities of the moment in this summer of potentially significant change.

Villa have a clutch of fringe first teamers cleared for take off should they find the right deal - midfielder Steve Sidwell was among the absentees as he inches closer to a switch to Fulham - and targets he wants to bring in including Robbie Keane and possibly Aiden McGeady.

But everything is hinging on just how the Manchester City pursuit of James Milner pans out. That scenario will decide precisely how much O'Neill has to spend and what his priorities will be.

And the least the money-drenched new force in English football know about his plans the better.

No words, then, from the man with so much on his mind who is a devilishly late entrant in the transfer market at the best of times.

But there was some eloquence on the pitch from familiar faces who, like the supporters, are wondering which players will be joining them between now and the end of August.


Most obviously Ashley Young, who skipped through a highly-entertaining and useful evening's work alongside John Carew which included a depressing opening goal for the England candidate.

Depressing? It is only mid-July and Young is going to struggle to score a better one over the next 10 months.

With 10 minutes gone, the winger claimed possession 30 yards out, advanced and feinted to shoot with power before instantly adjusting his body-shape to execute an exquisite chip over Peterborough's 6ft 6in goalkeeper Josh Lewis. It was a goal worthy of a much grander stage and more important occasion.

With Young displaying an attacking moment he will struggle to better, team-mate James Collins promptly endured one at the other he will hope represents as bad as it gets this year.


The Wales international was cork-screwed into his penalty area by the twists and turns of Craig Mackail-Smith then left in an embarrassing heap before Aaron Davies finished off the job.

If O'Neill goes ahead and activates the release clauses for perhaps as many as half a dozen of his support squad, not all the slack can be taken up by new signings - that throws extra opportunity the way of the club's younger element.

The manager's keen eye will therefore have focused on Marc Albrighton and flexible full-back Eric Lichaj, the two youngsters most prominently used. Both would figure in the two further goals which came Villa's way.

For Albrighton's Villa prospects, you sense, it's now or never after his minor first team breakthrough last season, which makes this a pre-season of vital importance and he will hope to enjoy more moments like the 43rd minute goal he helped craft to restore Villa's lead.

Breaking away down the right, Albrighton played in Young to the by-line but his pull-back still gave Carew a lot of work to do. No problem - the giant with the deft touch converted the chance with a back-heel flick which spun in off the far post like the last red ball off the cushion.

If O'Neill's team are going to finish like this next season, then Villa Park is in for some more fun times.

A third goal came from Lichaj, the 21-year-old full back for whom it is possible to see a real moment of opportunity. The American played in this fixture last season but was confined to first team football on loan at Lincoln thereafter.

But with Luke Young and Nicky Shorey both expected to leave, O'Neill would love to see the young man from Illinois help fill the breach.

Lichaj started at left-back, switched to the right during the inevitable second-half rush of substitutions and in between stole forward to score with a header from Stewart Downing's in-swinging corner on 53 minutes. He was sharp and quick enough to warrant a thorough check this pre-season.

Other points of interest for the Villa fans who made the trip would have been the opportunities afforded Nigel Reo-Coker and a leaner, sharper-looking Habib Beye, both of whom were used extensively.

A fresh chance for this pair or an outing in the shop window? Those answers are locked within O'Neill's calculations for the summer.

Persuading him to reveal them is clearly a more difficult task than Villa faced last night, despite the home side scoring a second on 67 minutes via a Charlie Lee shot deflected beyond substitute goalkeeper Elliott Parish.

By Martin Swain

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