MARTIN O’NEILL believes Aston Villa’s understated celebrations after winning away to Manchester United is a clear indication his players will not get carried away with their current success.
Villa won at Old Trafford for the first time in 26 years thanks to Gabriel Agbonlahor’s first-half goal and climbed into third spot in the Barclays Premier League for 24 hours before being overtaken by Arsenal.
It completed a memorable treble following wins at Anfield and at home to Chelsea this season, but O’Neill thinks his squad have their feet firmly on the ground ahead of tonight’s meeting with Sunderland at the Stadium Of Light.
O’Neill said: “I think it’s important to take everything in context. It was a fine win against United and I’m delighted we won and, by winning the game at Old Trafford, I am sure it will give players a bit more confidence.
“But I’m sure they are totally aware the Sunderland game will be just as difficult. Just because we won at Old Trafford doesn’t mean we can win anywhere.
“I don’t want to play it down. It was a great win for us, the first time at United for 26 years, but I don’t think the players will get too carried away with it. I think you saw that.”
O’Neill knows that expectations are increasing because of Villa’s second successive push to secure a top-four spot but knows the picture can quickly alter.
He said: “To beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United is really fine and pretty exceptional but, as a consequence, you raise expectations.
“I’ve said before I’m not too concerned about that. The converse is absolutely true. You lose a couple of games and people think you’re sliding down the table again. Things have to be in perspective.”
O’Neill is aware Sunderland will provide a tough test at the Stadium of Light and Villa needed penalties to win the Carling Cup tie between the clubs at the same venue last month.
He said: “We won on penalties in the Carling Cup and last season we did very well to win the league game. We came from behind to win.
“But it will be difficult. Sunderland are very, very strong at home and obviously I’m pretty concerned about the game. There is just no respite.”
Black Cats boss Steve Bruce knows his side face a tough challenge.
“They have beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United now. We will have to be at our best to take any points at all.”
Villa will arrive on Wearside with the Black Cats having won just one of their last seven league games – they conceded an injury-time equaliser at home to lowly Portsmouth on Saturday to surrender two points at the death – amid an injury and suspension crisis. However, Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson are available after disciplinary bans.
Bruce said: “We have been unfortunate. We have had serious injuries and big suspensions. But we are trying to get them all back and we will be better when we do.”
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