Lescott out but O'Neill tips City to take fourth

Villa manager says lack of distractions will help Mancini to reach Champions League

Martin O'Neill no sooner cited Manchester City's squad depth as one reason why he makes them favourites to finish fourth in the Premier League than Joleon Lescott – the boyhood Aston Villa fan who cost City £24m – learned that injury may have curtailed his part in the struggle for a Champions League spot.

Two scans produced contrasting results for City and Villa yesterday as they prepared to face Everton and Sunderland respectively tonight in home fixtures that could see Roberto Mancini's side overtake fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and leave O'Neill's side within spitting distance of the top of their mini-league.

Lescott, who limped out of the warm-up before City's victory at Fulham on Sunday, discovered he has damaged his hamstring tendons. According to Mancini, the former Everton defender will be out for "four to six weeks", scarcely enhancing his prospects of a place in England's final 23 for the World Cup.

There was better news for his fellow former Holte Ender Gabriel Agbonlahor, who suffered a foot injury at Wigan Athletic last week. O'Neill revealed that the striker, who is also a fringe contender for Fabio Capello's squad, suffered no long-term damage. "If he doesn't play against Sunderland there's a possibility of his being fit for Chelsea on Saturday," the Villa manager said.

O'Neill leans towards City finishing fourth because, of the other challengers, Spurs are still in the FA Cup, as are Villa, while Liverpool have a two-leg Europa League tie with Benfica looming. "City have no distractions in terms of cup matches and only have that to go for," he said. "They also have a sizeable squad to choose from, so they're in a really decent position.

"The great thing about Tottenham is that they have the points on the board. Liverpool will obviously be disappointed they didn't get something from Manchester United, but I wouldn't rule them out. There will be a few twists to come, no mistake."

Arsenal finished fourth last May with 72 points, nine clear of fifth-placed Everton, the only club to have broken the stranglehold of the "Big Four" since Newcastle in 2003. O'Neill believes such a high total may not be necessary this time. "If you remember, Arsenal were supposedly in danger of missing out but they went on brilliant long unbeaten run," he said. "It might take fewer points because teams have been beating each other."

His own team have two points fewer than at the same stage last year but O'Neill maintains that Villa – the only club unbeaten in the Premier League in 2010 – are in better shape to negotiate the run-in. "Last March we actually had 51 points from 25 games before we lost to Chelsea in Guus Hiddink's first match. Then we went to Moscow, came back and drew at home to Stoke. We then lost to Manchester City and Tottenham. So we went through a really tough time."

This season, in which Villa have lost fewer matches than leaders Manchester United but drawn 11 of their 29 games, O'Neill admitted they have been "pretty lucky" with injuries. That said, Richard Dunne (sore Achilles) is doubtful for the visit of Sunderland. "Dunne and [James] Milner always want to play," he said. "If they say they're feeling something, you know they're definitely feeling something."

Everton may have too much to do to repeat their top-four finish of five years ago. Lescott's absence deprives the game at Manchester City of a potential flashpoint but his defection from Goodison Park to Eastlands last August gave David Moyes another opportunity to air his thesis on City's new-found riches yesterday. "City have bought players with undoubted talent who can win games and make a difference and, given time, they might have a team like Everton," the Everton manager said. Acknowledging that City possess "top talent" that he would like to have at his disposal, he added pointedly that his club coveted players with "strength of character".

"Everton were a good home for Joleon Lescott, a good fit," added Moyes. "But that's gone now. We now have players who are fitting in to Everton, like Johnny Heitinga and Sylvain Distin. It moves on."

Race for fourth: Who will get final Champions League spot?

4th place: Tottenham Hotspur

P30 W16 D7 L7 Pts 55

To play Portsmouth (H, Sat), Sunderland (A, 3 Apr), Arsenal (H, 10 Apr), Chelsea (H, 17 Apr), Manchester United (A, 25 Apr), Bolton (H, 1 May), Manchester City (A, 5 May), Burnley (A, 9 May).

How will they do it? Need to take points from tough April fixtures. Away trip to Manchester City in the final week may well become an effective Champions League play-off.

5th: Manchester City

P29 W14 D11 L4 Pts 53

To play Everton (H, tonight), Wigan (H, Sun), Burnley (A, 3 Apr), Birmingham (H, 11 Apr), Manchester United (H, 17 Apr), Arsenal (A, 24 Apr), Aston Villa (H, 1 May), Tottenham (H, 5 May), West Ham (A, 9 May).

How will they do it? Maintain unbeaten home form with six of last nine at Eastlands. Slender favourites but need to overcome injuries and loss of form.

6th: Liverpool

P31 W15 D6 L10 Pts 51

To play Sunderland (H, Sun), Birmingham (A, 4 Apr), Fulham (H, 11 Apr), West Ham (H, 19 Apr), Burnley (A, 24 Apr), Chelsea (H, 1 May), Hull (A, 9 May).

How will they do it? With only Chelsea to play of the sides above them, Liverpool have favourable fixtures, but must improve away form.

7th: Aston Villa

P29 W13 D11 L5 Pts 50

To play Sunderland (H, tonight), Chelsea (A, Sat), Bolton (A, 3 Apr), Everton (H, 14 Apr), Portsmouth (A, 18 Apr), Hull (A, 21 Apr), Birmingham (H, 25 Apr), Manchester City (A, 1 May), Blackburn (H, 9 May).

How will they do it? With a busy April, building momentum will be crucial. Trip to Manchester City will be crucial.

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape