Little delight at Villa's progress under O'Neill

The former Aston Villa manager Brian Little believes the current season should be viewed as a success even if the midlands club fail to qualify for the Champions League.

Little was at the helm when Villa won their last trophy – the League Cup – 14 years ago, when they defeated Leeds United 3-0 in the final. And he feels Villa have re-established themselves as one of the top clubs in the country under Martin O'Neill.

They reached the Carling Cup final and will tackle Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in nine days' time. Little said: "Villa, for me, are now once again cemented as one of the top six or seven clubs in the country.

"You have Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, of course, but then there's Manchester City, Spurs and Villa now very much in among that pack while Everton will always be there or thereabouts too.

"Looking at Villa as a top-seven club is great because, prior to Martin arriving, in the two, three, four years before that, there were lean times and it looked difficult. But it's great to see the club now. It's fantastic to see how competitive they have become again."

Little, who also starred for Villa when they won the league title and European Cup in the early 1980s, added: "The fourth spot is a challenge but it is achievable. There's no embarrassment not being in the top four. It's an unbelievable challenge this season. Certain clubs have raised the bar while other clubs are finding it difficult."

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