Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill will be pleased that so many people still underestimate his side's chances of winning the Premier League title this season, writes Kevin McCarra. In fact Villa's ambitions "are so often overlooked that the team are clandestine contenders," he says.
But Villa is only a point behind Liverpool and Chelsea, and three behind leader Manchester United, a team which has scored only one goal more than Villa in the league's current campaign. While Villa has been criticized for stealing games on the counter-attack, McCarra pays tribute to the way that O'Neill has built a decent new side on limited resources by reconstructing the defense, linking winger Ashley Young to tall strikers, and keeping hold of England international Gareth Barry after he looked like leaving for Liverpool last summer. The club's pool of youth talent has also been called upon.
"We ought to be glad that someone is striving to smash the cartel at the top of the table," concludes McCarra. "For his part, O'Neill will be overjoyed if the menace posed by Villa is overlooked for a while longer."