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By ESPN Staff

McAllister lays down gauntlet to Villa

Caretaker manager Gary McAllister has challenged the Aston Villa players to live up to the tag of being "the midlands' biggest club'' by ending the season on a high.

McAllister wants Villa to finish the campaign as the region's highest placed club in the Premier League - something they have achieved for the past eight years.

Eight points from the last four games have banished the threat of relegation ahead of tomorrow's derby with West Brom at The Hawthorns.

But McAllister, who will again be in charge while manager Gerard Houllier recovers from heart problems, does not want the squad resting on its laurels

"I'm not being disrespectful to the midlands clubs but people look at Villa and they are the biggest midlands club. That's a fact. There is big support, a wonderful stadium, wonderful training facilities here. The club that has finished the highest in the Premier League in recent years is there to be shot at.

"But that's the responsibility of playing for this club. We've got to produce. We know the other midlands clubs are going to raise their game against Villa. It's only natural.''

McAllister is full of praise for the way the Villa squad have put an end to any fears of going down via wins over West Ham and Newcastle and draws with Everton and Stoke.

"Three or four games ago there was real pressure and we had to be realistic," he said. "We were talking about surviving in this league. But the feeling now, and the confidence and the mood, means we are tending to look the other way. We are intending to catch the teams above us and finish as high as we can.

"When you can get back to back wins, you can make significant moves up the table. We've got West Brom who are looking to finish as high as they can and then Wigan who are looking to get themselves away from the bottom. They've got plenty to play for but we have as well. There are games we can win and we can move up the table.''

McAllister is full of praise for the way Roy Hodgson has revived Albion's fortunes with 13 points from eight games since he replaced Roberto Di Matteo in early February.

"West Brom have had a great run under Roy, pulled themselves out of it and all credit to the players," McAllister said. "I think Tony Mowbray and then Roberto Di Matteo established the West Brom style of play. Roy has come in and maybe made them a little bit more solid when they don't have the ball.

"When they've got the ball, they've got good players. They have got talented players. The big improvement has been when they don't have the ball. There is a solidity about them they didn't have in the past.''

Barry Bannan has been added to the Villa squad after the Scottish international was recalled from his loan spell at Leeds.

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