Striker John Carew believes he is regaining his best form at the crunch time of Aston Villa's season as they chase a domestic cup double and a Champions League spot. Martin O'Neill's side, who meet Manchester United in Sunday's Carling Cup final, are through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and challenging for a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Carew has had injury niggles this season and in the past couple of months has been used mainly as an impact player from the bench. But the Norway international capitalised on his start against Crystal Palace in Wednesday's FA Cup fifth-round replay by winning, and scoring, two late penalties to set up a last-eight meeting at Reading on Sunday week.
Now Carew is hoping he can play a part in this weekend's meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson's side, from whom Villa have taken four points in the league this season. He said: "I've been injured and I've been working really hard to get back in shape and against Palace I felt really good – even after the game. My legs felt light. I feel I'm starting to reach my peak form again. I really needed that game to get the last bit of fitness back after a couple of setbacks. I want to be available for the team again and 100 per cent fit."
Carew added: "This is a really important stage of the season. We are in two cups still and it's great for the club. We have reached one final and we can reach another final. As regards the final on Sunday, I always hope to play but I am just available for the team."
Carew believes Villa should not be fazed by the prospect of meeting the Red Devils in what will be the West Midlanders' first major final since the 2000 FA Cup, when they were beaten by Chelsea.
He said: "In the League, we have taken four points off United so we know we have the possibility to get something out of it. We are going there planning to enjoy the moment, play good football and try to make it a great day in Villa's history. That would be fantastic.
"We have been getting better and better in the League over the last three or four years, which is important, but it's also important to get to cup finals. You really feel you are arriving. It gives even more edge to the feeling you are getting somewhere."
In stark contrast, Palace now have to concentrate on Championship survival, with uncertainty remaining over the future of their manager, Neil Warnock, who has been linked with a move to QPR.
Warnock confirmed he would be in charge for tomorrow's trip to Doncaster at least and revealed that hopes of signing a striker on loan had been dashed.
"Avoiding relegation is now the priority," he said. "There is nothing else left in the season. We have got a good bunch. We don't score enough goals.
Warnock added: "Can I deny the speculation that I am moving to QPR? No. Could this have been my last game? It could have – but it won't be."