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O'Neill urges Heskey to play through pain barrier

Aston Villa striker Emile Heskey has been challenged by manager Martin O'Neill to play through the pain barrier as the club chase their own treble.

Villa face Manchester United in the Carling Cup final next weekend, are still in the FA Cup and are handily placed in the battle to finish fourth and qualify for next season's Champions League. They will bid to step up their Champions League challenge when they face Burnley at Villa Park in a Premier League clash tomorrow and O'Neill wants to have Heskey firing on all cylinders.

O'Neill, who also had Heskey under his control when he was starting out at Leicester, said: "Emile needs to build up a head of steam because every minute you are on the pitch is vital. "He has completed a couple of games recently and that was good news psychologically for him. This also applies to John Carew.

"But I can transfer the fitness question to little Fabian Delph, who at this stage has had a number of games in relatively quick succession and he is still finding the going tough in the last 20 minutes because of the lack of match fitness.

"While I accept that it can affect someone so young it can certainly affect people who are a lot more mature. That is why I agree that Heskey needs to get up a head of steam."

Heskey has been struggling with a number of niggling injury problems this season. He will return to the Villa squad against Burnley after recovering from the groin problem that forced him off against Crystal Palace during last weekend's FA Cup tie.

Having Heskey available against Burnley, for the FA Cup replay against Palace on Wednesday and the Carling Cup Final would be a massive boost for O'Neill who hopes the next week will not end in a massive letdown. The former Celtic boss added: "By Sunday week it will be one competition gone whether we win or lose.

"I am hoping that by the end of next week we have had some reward for the effort the team has put in.

"Obviously, I remember last season when we had a fortnight of big games.

"I remember it very clearly. We lost against Chelsea, played the return game in the UEFA Cup in Moscow and lost and then returned and conceded a two-goal lead against Stoke.

"I think, although I didn't know it at the time, that was a serious blow."

Gabriel Agbonlahor, Villa's 12-goal striker, will return to the side against Burnley after missing the Palace cup tie with a leg injury.