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By ESPN Staff

Villa skipper Barry targets top six finish

Skipper Gareth Barry admits the expectation level amongst Aston Villa supporters is at its highest since his first season almost a decade ago.

Barry was a member of the Villa side which led the Premier League table from September 1998 into the following year under John Gregory before fading badly and finishing sixth.

It was the last time they seriously threatened to challenge for the title ahead of several years of underachievement and disillusionment on the terraces.

Barry is not suggesting Villa will achieve those lofty heights only 12 months into Martin O'Neill's reign, but he does sense the optimism from fans ahead of Saturday's clash with Liverpool.

The England midfielder said: 'Other than in my first year at Villa, there is probably more expectation about this season than there has been since I've been here.

'You can always tell that from the number of season tickets being sold. They say this year they won't be far off breaking the record for the highest ever and that is always a good sign.

'It was also why I chose to stay here last year. The club assured me they wanted to move forward by bringing in the right players.

'The fans appreciate that as well so the expectation levels should be there and we've got to relish it.

'We climbed five places last season to finish 11th and if we can climb another five places this season then we will be making good progress.'

Barry, a former Brighton trainee, is the only survivor from those heady days under Gregory following the departure of Darius Vassell two years ago and Lee Hendrie this summer.

He said: 'With so many young players here, it does make me feel old! I've been in the game nearly 10 years now but I'm still only 26.

'I realise if I'm lucky that I've still got plenty of years ahead of me.'

O'Neill is expected to tie up the loan capture of Liverpool goalkeeper Scott Carson on Friday - but he still faces an anxious 90 minutes against the Reds.

Carson would be ineligible for that game and, with Thomas Sorensen injured, O'Neill has only academy player David Bevan as back up to Stuart Taylor.

Nigel Reo-Coker is poised to make his Villa debut in midfield but his former West Ham team-mate Marlon Harewood is likely to be amongst the substitutes. Striker John Carew is expected to have recovered from a slight groin problem.