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By ESPN Staff

O'Neill insists Baros still has a Villa future

Martin O'Neill is optimistic Milan Baros will remain at Aston Villa after assuring the fit-again striker he has a major part to play in the club's plans.

Baros has been linked with a move to German club Hamburg despite finishing as Villa's top scorer with 12 goals in his debut season.

But a foot injury suffered in the build-up to the Czech Republic's World Cup campaign has sidelined him for the past two months.

The 24-year-old returned to training for the first time on Tuesday and O'Neill, whose side host Reading tonight, is hopeful of him staying at Villa Park.

He said: 'I have spoke to Milan. I think, if he thought he would be in our plans - which he most certainly would be - then he would want to stay.

'There is talk of German and Italian sides supposedly being interested, but I wouldn't want him to go at this stage.

'How concrete is the interest? Since I've been here I've not heard anything new and what I would want to do at this moment is dissuade him from going.

'He showed the player he can be in Euro 2004, and I think he would know that as much as anyone else. That's what he has got to get back to.

'Unfortunately he's had this injury which has caused him a lot of problems. He left here perfectly okay to go and play in the World Cup and when he came back here he was unfit.

'The good thing is he's back in training and said he didn't feel so bad. In an ideal world he will now get some proper work in, which he hadn't done since the middle of June, and may be ready after the international break.'

O'Neill is looking for Villa to build on their encouraging 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium against Steve Coppell's side.

He will be assured of a rousing reception for his first home game in charge of Villa and is aware expectation levels have risen over the past few days.

He said: 'I can't do anything about that. I am just hoping the Villa fans will still be on our side after 75 minutes because it means things will be going well.

'If things are not so clever, you will expect some sort of criticism. Reading showed their mettle in coming back from 2-0 down to defeat Middlesbrough, but the onus is on us as the home side to attack and that's what we will try to do.'

Defender Mark Delaney will have a fitness test after missing the Arsenal match with a virus, while striker Kevin Phillips is included in the squad despite being a target for West Brom and Sunderland.