Young confident Villa can last the distance

AMID the hyperbole surrounding Manchester City and Tottenham’s pursuit of English football’s established elite, the challenge of Aston Villa has gone almost unnoticed.

Maybe the memories of last term’s Springtime capitulation, which saw Martin O’Neill’s side spiral out of contention for a top-four finish having led from the front all season, have made supporters and pundits wary of overstating their case this term.

Yet there they are again, in fifth place, just two points behind Arsenal and, as Luke Young, their defender, pointed out after this latest comfortable win, boasting a far stronger squad than the one which failed to go the distance last season.

Villa now have competition for places all over the pitch, a point underlined by the fact that experienced campaigners such as Nigel Reo-Coker, Steve Sidwell, John Carew, Habib Beye plus the injured James Collins, Curtis Davies and Wilfred Bouma were all absent from the starting line-up on Saturday.

“There were times last season when I felt tired going into games,” Young admitted.

“With the squad and the depth we’ve got now, if someone is tired or carrying a knock, then you can afford to rest them.

“Hopefully you won’t see a tail end like last season and we’ll be strong all the way through.”

Young, who has just returned to fitness after a lengthy lay-off, admits it can be hard for players to come to terms with rotation.

But he insists the current squad is happy to accept such a scenario because of the unity within its ranks.

He said: “At the moment it is a very united squad, and everyone wants everyone to do well and if Habib Beye was playing instead of me, I’d be wanting him to do well.

“It is that kind of environment at the moment. Hopefully that will take us all the way through the season.”

Once again Villa’s star performer was James Milner, his display capped by a beautifully crafted assist for Richard Dunne’s opener and then his own well-taken taken goal after Hull goalkeeper Matt Duke had rashly rushed out of his area to clear. Milner accepted a quick throw-in and lobbed a perfect shot over the backtracking Duke from 25 yards.

“I can’t speak highly enough of James,” Young added. “He is one of those players who deserves everything he gets.

“He works so hard on the training pitch, exactly as he does on a match day, and he deserves everything he gets at the moment.

“At the minute, on form, he should definitely be on the plane to the World Cup in South Africa with England.”

Hull, who were killed off with John Carew’s second-half penalty, will be keeping their fingers crossed midfielder Jimmy Bullard has not suffered another long-term knee injury after he limped out of the action midway through the first half.

Bullard, who only returned to action in October after an eight month lay-off, is due to have a scan in the next 24 hours.

“Jimmy has been brilliant for us since he has been back,” George Boateng, his fellow midfielder, said. “We said in the dressing room ‘let’s not think too negatively’ because we don’t know the extent of the injury.

“It might be a strain, it might be anything. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as the other injuries. It might be a couple of days and then he might be back.

“I’ve had a few injuries and, as soon as you come back and feel something, you are more insecure so every little niggle, you think it is the end of the world.

“I think he was more disappointed that he couldn’t carry on today more than anything so let us not think it is that bad.”

REFEREE: Stuart Atwell (West Midlands) 7: A game of few controversies, and was correct to award Villa their penalty.

MATCH RATING: *** Villa were polished, although they were helped by a limp Hull.

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