O'Neill issues rallying cry to secure finish in top four

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has challenged his players to show they can last the pace in the battle for Champions League qualification.

Villa, who face Hull tonight, have emerged as the team most likely to gatecrash the top four in the Premier League this season. They are well placed at the midway point of the season but O'Neill said: "It is a tough struggle. There is nothing easy in this league and where the other clubs have the advantage is that they have been through this ground before.

"Those clubs, who have been over the course and distance for every single year, have the advantage. So far as we are concerned we have to keep the players fit because with all these games coming up it is going to be tough. We have got to show the same sort of desire and same sort of commitment for another five months.

"We will be stretched to the limit. We will lose matches we should have won and might scramble something we might not deserve. But overall the points we have got this season, I don't think there would be too many occasions that we didn't deserve something from the game."

Having seen his side come back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Boxing Day, O'Neill is keen to ensure that no-one in the Villa camp should underestimate the challenge of a trip to Hull.

He said: "The game will be very tough. Hull have surprised a lot of people this season and the points they have on the board are fantastic. When you consider how tight the Premiership is this season, for them to be where they are at the moment is great testimony to what they have achieved over the first four or five months.

"They have had some great results. The one I remember which made me sit up and take notice was their brilliant effort at the Emirates when they came from behind to win. From that minute onwards everyone in the Premiership realised that this isn't a flash in the pan. The past couple of Hull results have not been fantastic but the spirit and determination within that group of players is very, very strong."