Martin O'Neill has increased the pressure on his side ahead of tonight's Premier League encounter with Everton by admitting Aston Villa need to win all their remaining games to save their Champions League hopes.
O'Neill, the Villa manager, is facing the bitter prospect of seeing a season that had threatened to be so memorable ending in severe disappointment and is acutely aware it is now at the "win or bust" stage.
Villa were beaten in the Carling Cup Final by Manchester United in February and suffered again when they slipped to defeat against Chelsea in the FA Cup on Saturday. O'Neill was still clearly angered yesterday by his second bitter experience of Wembley this year and will tonight turn his attentions to his club's challenge for fourth place. Villa are eight points behind Manchester City and the Ulsterman knows failure to beat Everton at home could kill off their season.
He has conceded that Villa must triumph in all their remaining six games to stand any chance of winning the race for the precious final Champions League place. "I think we should continue to fight right to the end," he said. "We have a really big game against Everton and to keep ourselves in contention [for fourth place] we have to win.
"There wouldn't be much room for slip-ups from our viewpoint between now and the end of the season if we want to stay in contention. It's a six-game season for us in the Premier League and there is still plenty to play for, with European places at stake. I think it's genuinely worth fighting for because no run-in of the teams involved is easy.
"Manchester City and Spurs have a tough time, as do we. It won't be easy but the first thing is to beat an in-form Everton tonight. We need maximum points at this stage."
Villa's pursuit of the final Champions League place has stuttered due to a series of frustrating draws against Wolves and Sunderland on their own turf, together with the 7-1 thrashing at Chelsea last month.
The clouds of uncertainty over whether the 56-year-old will remain in the West Midlands beyond this season refuse to dissipate but he is adamant that whatever happens the campaign should be viewed as a success. "I would have been delighted with the way the season has panned out if you'd asked me after the opening-day defeat to Wigan," he said.
"We've been battling all year and there is no reason for us now to just give it up. We've had a couple of disappointments at Wembley but we have to really fight back. I think the players are determined to do that."
James Milner, despite taking a heavy tackle from John Terry in the Cup semi-final, is fit to play tonight.
Everton are missing midfielder Mikel Arteta, who has failed to recover from the groin strain that caused him to miss the draw with West Ham in their last outing.Reuse content