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Premier League

Mellberg fears Villa have lost way on European trail

Defender Olof Mellberg has admitted Aston Villa are now facing an uphill task to qualify for Europe before he heads off to Juventus in the summer.

Villa's disappointing 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough on Wednesday means Martin O'Neill's side are seven points adrift of Everton and Liverpool with just nine Premier League games remaining.

Tottenham's Carling Cup success and the failure of any of the 'big four' to reach the FA Cup semi-finals means Villa have to finish in the top five to achieve their European goal or be content with battling it out in the Intertoto Cup.

"Can we qualify for Europe?" Mellberg considered. "We can, but it looks tough with the sort of form that Liverpool and Everton are in. It is going to be difficult. We are in the same position as four years ago when we came sixth and missed out on goal difference to Newcastle, when again only the first five in the Premier League qualified for Europe.

"We need to give it a go. That's all we can do – put in better performances than against Middlesbrough and be a bit lucky with other results as well and then maybe we will have a chance.

"We haven't been that consistent throughout the whole season but we have shown we are able to bounce back. We have one of the best records for coming back from a goal down."

Mellberg admits Villa struggle to win games where the pressure is on them to take the points against sides in the lower part of the table, as was the case when beaten at Fulham recently.

The Sweden international believes Villa's best showings have often come in games against the sides at the other end of the Premier League. He said: "Portsmouth away [on Saturday] is a tough game but we have put in performances when we haven't been under that much pressure and in quite a few away games. It might be a good game to bounce back in.

"We seem to have played fairly well away from home of late and the Fulham game was the last one where we didn't against a team struggling in the table.

"This was a similar situation where we were under pressure and favourites to win and needed to go at them, and it didn't work out which is frustrating."

Mellberg found himself on the bench for only the second time in his Villa career when fit before being brought on at half time, and it gave him a different perspective of Villa's performance.

He said: "I am not used to watching from the bench but it didn't look good in the first half. There was a bit of improvement in the second half but we didn't really create enough chances to score more goals."