Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill backs 'phenomenal' James Milner for place in England's World Cup squad

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill described James Milner as 'phenomenal' after the midfielder gave a man-of-the-match display against Hull in an unfamiliar central role.

The return of Stewart Downing has led to Milner's change of  position and O'Neill has admitted that he has been thinking of playing Milner centrally since the summer.

Milner rewarded O'Neill by scoring one - and creating another - in Villa's 3-0 win over the Yorkshire side on Saturday.


Super strike: Milner fires home for Aston Villa

O'Neill said: 'He's played twice for us in there [central midfield] now and, not only has he been brilliant in the  matches, he's scored some goals for us as well. And I think he's capable of doing that.

'I said to him at the start of the season that I did see him playing infield. I thought he could do that and I think he agreed with me. But the two performances in there have been phenomenal.'

Villa have lacked a central figure to break up play, dictate tempo and drive  the side forwards since Gareth Barry's departure to Manchester City in the summer.

Milner appears to have filled the void and O'Neill is backing him for an England World Cup spot.

James Milner

Delight: Milner celebrates his goal against Hull

O'Neill said: 'If the England manager is picking a squad, he is going to have outright centre-forwards and outright defenders and quality midfielders to choose from.

'But, if you're going to have a squad and you look at some player who actually has the versatility to play in a number of positions, and not just fitting in there, but actually make a contribution, I think that's outstanding and that's where James at this moment is definitely scoring points.'

But the Villa manager admits that breaking into the side is not as straightforward.

'That's going to be exceptionally hard,' he said. 'You have players like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard who are, without question,  world-class players.

'They've proved it consistently and it's going to be hard to disrupt those if  they're fit.'  Regarding the player's personality, O'Neill added: 'He trains the way he plays. He puts absolutely everything into the game.'

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