O'Neill flattened by Wigan defeat
Martin O'Neill offered no excuses after seeing his Aston Villa side beaten 2-0 by a well-drilled Wigan Athletic side on opening day. Goals from Hugo Rodallega and Jason Koumas handed the Latics victory in front of an expectant Villa Park crowd, the majority of whom vented their frustration at the home side's performance at the final whistle.
The first league game back after Gareth Barry's departure from the midlands club to Manchester City was always going to be a testing one for O'Neill, whose midfield looked shaky in the absence of his former talisman and captain. While Villa started the match well enough, the Wigan midfield ultimately took a grip on the match, the likes of Michael Brown and Charles N'Zogbia particularly catching the eye, and O'Neill felt the better team had gone home with the three points.
Asked if he had been left frustrated by his team's display, O'Neill replied: "Well, more disappointment. You can be frustrated if you feel that you deserved something out of the game, but we didn't.
"After the initial 15 minutes, we were second best all afternoon. You can analyse everything, but at the end of it all I thought we looked tired, which was a wee bit of a surprise considering we've had a pretty decent pre-season.
"We've been beaten when we should have been ready to go, and it was very disappointing indeed," he said.
O'Neill also felt the boos at the final whistle from many in the 35,578-strong crowd were largely justified.
"That's my responsibility, it's as simple as that," he said. "If you pay your money, you can criticise as you see fit."
An indifferent debut for new £8m signing Fabian Delph will have added to the gloom at Villa Park, but O'Neill insists the 19-year-old will develop into a class act.
"I think that in time he will be a real quality player," he said. "I knew he would get tired in the game, but we were loose everywhere, and we weren't good enough."
Wigan's display by contrast will have confounded the doubters who feared the summer exits of Antonio Valencia to Manchester United and Lee Cattermole to Sunderland would leave the Latics facing a season battling against the drop. But a confident attacking display, with Rodallega ably supported by N'Zogbia and impressive debutant Jordi Gomez, has swiftly altered perceptions.
The visitors' threat going forward was converted into the lead in stunning fashion after 30 minutes today, Villa full-back Nicky Shorey's misplaced header sitting up perfectly for Rodallega, who dispatched a superb looping 20-yard finish over Brad Friedel and into the top-left corner of the net. And Wigan's second goal was equally pleasing on the eye when it arrived after 55 minutes.
N'Zogbia was the creator, his probing run from the middle of the park culminating in a precise lay-off for the on-rushing Koumas, who kept his head to finish low through Friedel's legs from the left side of the area.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez hailed the performance of his players as he basked in the accolade of winning his first ever match as a Premier League manager.
He said: "I always felt that we had too many disruptions this pre-season and we knew the key to the game was going to be the first 10, 15 minutes, and Aston Villa didn't disappoint us.
"They put us under massive pressure. They looked very, very sharp and I'm proud of the players for the way they dealt with that situation. After that, Wigan Athletic deserved to win today," said Martinez. "It's been a big turnaround and credit should go to the players."
When asked if he would employ the free-flowing football on show today in every match this season, the Spaniard replied: "Yes. As always in football you need to find solutions, you need to be wary of the opposition, but football is about enjoying yourself and making sure you can express yourself as well.
"In football, if you are not going to enjoy the game, you are in the wrong business," he said. "I take pride in the high standards of the players, but I want them to enjoy their football, I want them to be creative and I want them to put a smile on the supporters' faces, and they did that."