Allardyce quit as Bolton manager on April 29 and seems certain to be unveiled as Glenn Roeder's successor at St James' Park this week.

He was at the Reebok Stadium yesterday to witness the side he built clinch a place in the UEFA Cup by virtue of their 2-2 draw against Villa, which secured seventh place in the Barclays Premiership.

Now the task of transforming Newcastle from perennial underachievers into a side that will challenge for silverware awaits.

"Sam will be ready for Newcastle, of course," said O'Neill, who has guided Villa to 11th in his first season in charge.

"I think he feels himself 'this is it', and it's a great chance for him and a great opportunity because Newcastle are a fantastic football club."

Allardyce, who enjoyed seven-and-a-half hugely successful years in charge at the Reebok Stadium, held talks with Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd in London on Friday.

Yet, the 52-year-old still found time to accept an invitation from Phil Gartside to attend yesterday's game and take up his old seat in the directors' box next to the Trotters chairman.

Allardyce's successor, Sammy Lee, said: "I was very pleased to see Sam, but it just shows the depth of this football club.

"The fact that he came along to support everybody, and the job that the owner, the chairman and Sam have done in the past eight or nine years have been terrific."

A tense encounter saw Villa snatch a deserved point in the 81st minute when substitute Luke Moore fired home.

Gary Speed opened the scoring shortly after the half-hour mark but a brilliant volleyed equaliser from rookie midfielder Craig Gardner soon had Villa level.

Kevin Davies restored the home side's lead with a neat finish in the 58th minute and, although Moore levelled in the closing stages, Bolton ended the season a point clear of Reading to clinch a coveted UEFA Cup berth.

The Trotters were rarely been out of the European places all season but a turbulent end to the campaign, and a five-match winless streak, threatened a final-day disaster.

"That was my worry because if we hadn't gained qualification for the UEFA Cup then it would have been a big disappointment for all the work that everyone had put in," admitted Lee.

"The fact that we have qualified is great vindication of the great groundwork which has been laid down by some very, very good people here at this football club.

"We didn't quite get the win that would have secured it regardless of other results but it was through no lack of effort.

"I think the crowd played their part today, which doesn't always get mentioned at this football club, but it was a great result for everybody."