Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Villa's record run driven by fearlessness, says O'Neill

'We're doing what the top teams do,' explains manager as team excels on the road

Martin O'Neill has cited the fearless approach of his Aston Villa players as the main reason for their record-breaking away form in the Premier League.

Villa are on course for a Champions League spot after winning the last seven league games on their travels – the first time the club have achieved such a run in their history. In all, they have won 10 out of 13 away matches compared to only five in 12 at Villa Park.

O'Neill, whose side visit Everton for an FA Cup fifth-round match on Sunday, said: "We go into games away from home with no fear. There is no real worry when we travel. We have respect but no fear and we travel with optimism in every game. The away record is incredible.

"I remember saying several weeks ago that the key to doing well – and competing – is going on winning runs of six, seven, eight games in a row. That's what the top teams do and amazingly that's what the lads have managed.

"They've gone 13 league games unbeaten, picking up 31 points from a possible 39. That's a fantastic effort by the players, but we need to keep that up. We need to keep that momentum going. Whether we can sustain our momentum over the next four months is obviously debatable, but we are where we are with two-thirds of the season gone. There is also such a strong determination and spirit about the team."

O'Neill feels that the make-up of his team makes them a bigger threat on opposition grounds, with the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, and the power of Emile Heskey and John Carew. He said: "Away from home I would accept the point that we have had a wee bit of room and have been able to exploit that to good effect. At this minute in time, I wouldn't disagree with anyone who says the strongest part of our game is probably on the counter-attack."

The club captain, Martin Laursen, has urged his team-mates to keep alive his dream of playing at Wembley in the FA Cup final as he starts rehabilitation work after knee surgery. The Danish central defender, who recently retired from international football, is frustrated to be out of action with Martin O'Neill's side chasing honours on three fronts.

But Laursen expects to be back playing by the time of the Cup semi-finals in mid-April as Villa start the countdown to Sunday's tie at Everton.

And he is confident Villa will still be involved in the competition plus the Uefa Cup and the push for a Champions League spot via the Barclays Premier League when he regains fitness.

Laursen said: "Every footballer dreams of playing at Wembley and I am hoping my team-mates can make it a reality for me over the course of the next few weeks. Right now there is nothing I can do to help. The medical experts reckon I will be sidelined for around eight weeks, which is frustrating to say the least.

"But I expect to be back by the time the FA Cup semi-finals roll around in mid-April. Success on Merseyside would leave us only one round away from that stage. Because of my injury problems, I've only been involved in one FA Cup tie for Villa – against Manchester United – but I am aware just how important the competition is.

"We've got the top four spot in the league to push for and are still in the Uefa Cup plus the FA Cup. To miss out on all three at the present is disappointing for myself. But I am confident the lads will make sure we are still involved on all three fronts by the time I return. There is so much to play for."