O'Neill beats the drum as Villa target Champions League spot

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The Independent Football

While the fans will be concerned with the local bragging rights, for Aston Villa tomorrow's derby with Birmingham at Villa Park offers so much more.

Victory for the hosts would not only be sweet for their fans but would keep O'Neill's side on course for a possible place in next season's Champions League. Back-to-back wins against Portsmouth and Hull have put Villa firmly in the mix for a fourth-place finish. O'Neill said: "We need to win games to make sure of European football for the third successive season. So a win over Birmingham is of great importance. There is plenty to play for and while that remains the case we have got to give it everything we've got.

"When we go into Sunday's game we will have a fair idea of what has transpired the previous day and will know what we have to do. The players know what is at stake and these days they are fully aware that every position in the Premier League is worth a great deal of money.

"So if teams and players are mentally thinking of turning off, owners, directors and the occasional manager would be trying to change those thoughts."

The last time the teams met at Villa Park, in April 2008, the home team won 5-1. O'Neill would love a repeat but expects to be facing a far sterner test: "I well remember the 5-1 win we had over Birmingham. I know they finished getting relegated that season but they have come a long way since then.

"They fought back magnificently last season to get back into the Premiership with a better team than the last time they played at Villa Park."

Richard Dunne, the Villa central defender, has declared himself fit after suffering a gashed head during the midweek win at Hull, while midfielder Stiliyan Petrov (groin) and left-back Stephen Warnock (ankle) are also expected to be in contention.

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