Heskey still grounded as Villa rise

England striker stays calm as O'Neill's men hope to continue climb into top four

Emile Heskey is adamant Aston Villa will not allow themselves to be carried away by their surge up the Premier League table.

Villa climbed back into the third place they occupied briefly after Saturday's famous victory at Manchester United with Tuesday night's 2-0 win at Sunderland, as Heskey scored his third goal in five games. But manager Martin O'Neill was quick to play down their chances of remaining in the top four, and there is little danger of any complacency among his players.

Heskey said: "We have put ourselves in a great position and just have to keep there. We are not getting carried away, we just want to carry on and keep getting the points. We will see how we go over the Christmas period. This is the busiest period and we have a lot of games. We will see how we come through and where we go from there. It is interesting, because people will probably feel that we might die off a little bit. But we can, hopefully, stay up there."

Heskey opened the scoring at the Stadium of Light when, after Stewart Downing had hit the bar with a curling free-kick, he ran on to James Milner's pass and fired past the Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop. Brad Friedel had to save well from Andy Reid before the break and the Irish winger wasted a golden opportunity to level four minutes after the restart.

But after Villa had hit the woodwork again through Ashley Young, Milner made sure of the points with a stunning 30-yard shot.

Milner said: "It was a throw-in and I just managed to get it out of my feet. It was just bobbling along and I thought, 'Why not have a go?' I think Stewart was calling for it so I had to make sure I hit the target, otherwise he would have given me a rollicking. But you have got to try your luck."

Heskey and Milner will both hope their efforts at club level will book their seats on the plane which flies Fabio Capello's England squad out to South Africa for next summer's World Cup finals. But Heskey, who comfortably overshadowed Sunderland's Darren Bent on Tuesday, is again taking nothing for granted.

Heskey said: "I just want to play games. I am just concentrating on playing for Aston Villa and anything that comes with that is a bonus."

For Sunderland, the defeat extended a run of poor results which has brought just five points from the last 24 on offer and taken much of the gloss off their impressive start to the season. To make matters worse, their captain, Lorik Cana, picked up his seventh and eighth bookings of the season and will be suspended for the second time in his short career on Wearside for Saturday's trip to Manchester City.

The one bright spot for the Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce, was the return of Cana's central midfield partner Lee Cattermole, who played the final 19 minutes after eight weeks on the sidelines with medial ligament damage. Cattermole was a surprise inclusion among the substitutes, after initially being pencilled in to appear for the reserves at Hartlepool last night.

The 21-year-old modestly played down the significance of his absence, but is desperate to make up for lost time. "Quite a lot has been made of me being missing and we haven't maybe won as many games or we have lost quite a few games away from home," Cattermole said. "But we have played some tough games. I know we have had some poor results but I will just do my best now I am back to help the team get back on track. Hopefully, away at Manchester City on Saturday we can just try to keep things tight and come away with something."

Bruce will make a late decision on whether to field one of his most influential players again after deciding to pitch him into battle on Tuesday night with just a few days' training under his belt.