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Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009

James Milner hails quality of Aston Villa squad

James Milner
Milner scored with a stunning 30-yard strike in Villa's win at Sunderland

Aston Villa midfielder James Milner believes his side can challenge for a top-four finish because of the added quality in the squad this season.

A run of six league games unbeaten has propelled Villa to fourth position, two points ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham.

"There's a lot more quality. We had quality last year, but there's more quality bodies," he told BBC WM.

"You look at the bench we've got and then the players we've got coming back, that's maybe the difference."

Fabian Delph, Stewart Downing, Richard Dunne, James Collins, Habib Baye and Stephen Warnock all joined Villa in the summer and, apart from the retirement of defender Martin Laursen, the only major departure being Gareth Barry to Manchester City.

"It's great to have competition for places, it makes the manager's job a bit harder," added Milner.

"The players who are playing need to keep putting in the performances to make sure they stay in the team."

The former Leeds and Newcastle midfielder, who also had a loan spell at Villa in the 2005/06 season, has hit a rich vein of form in recent weeks.

He scored his sixth goal of the season on Tuesday, as Martin O'Neill's side followed up their win against Manchester United at Old Trafford with a 2-0 success away at Sunderland.

Villa were in the top four for much of the 2008-09 season, but won only two of their last 13 league matches and ended up finishing sixth.

However, Milner is confident that the team will not make the same mistakes again.

"We were in a good position last year and we should have learned from what happened towards the end of the season," he added.

"There's a long way to go and it's obviously nice to be up there, but there's a lot of games to be played. It's down to us to keep working hard, keep improving and keep putting in performances."

In-form Villa host Stoke City in their next Premier League fixture on Saturday.

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