Reo-Coker eyes top-four place

September 13, 2008

Nigel Reo-Coker believes Aston Villa's ability to keep Gareth Barry has "set a marker" in the battle to break into the Premier League top four.

Villa will return to action for the first time since the transfer window closed against Tottenham on Monday - having ensured Barry would be their player for at least the next four months.

Martin O'Neill resisted four bids from Liverpool for the 27-year-old and would not move from his £18million valuation of the midfielder, who has been on England duty for the past fortnight.

Reo-Coker believes other clubs will have taken note of Villa's stance and made them realise they were serious about making major strides forward.

The former West Ham player told PA Sport: "A lot of players have been away for the best part of two weeks because of the World Cup qualifiers and Under-21 games - but everyone has been so pleased about Gareth staying.

"He is one of our top players. A fantastic player, a great asset to the club, and a real professional. I always rated Gareth highly, even before I came to the club last summer, and it's great to hang on to him.

"It makes us a stronger squad - and a more serious contender to break into the top four. It is very important that we managed to hang on to him.

"It's up to the individual to interpret the situation what has happened but it shows what we are trying to do, plain and simple. It shows how serious we are.

"So many clubs in the Premier League are considered feeder clubs but you can see how serious and ambitious this club is.

"Keeping Gareth sets a marker and I think other clubs will notice that. We're not here to make up the numbers. We want to push onto into that top four."

Reo-Coker can also see signs that O'Neill is assembling the kind of meaningful squad he wants at his disposal and that Villa's ambitions persuaded James Milner to make the £12million switch from Liverpool.

The ex-Wimbledon player said: "Martin has got his masterplan. I'm sure he knew what he was going to do from a long time ago and now he's finally getting the team together that he wants.

"I think James Milner would have looked at the squad we've got here, could see we are serious contenders to achieve things and do things, and there is the opportunity to play European football as well."

Milner could start for the first time since returning to the club after a successful loan spell three years ago following a substitute appearance during the goalless draw with Liverpool a fortnight ago.

Defender Carlos Cuellar will be pushing for a place after his £7.8million capture from Rangers came through two reserve games successfully following a calf problem.