Gareth Barry believes Aston Villa are in the "perfect position" to maintain their push for a Champions League spot during the second half of the season.
Villa have entered the new year lying in fourth spot in the Premier League, three points clear of main rivals Arsenal.
Martin O'Neill's side will go into Sunday's FA Cup clash at Gillingham on the back of an unbeaten eight-game league run, which has seen them move in front of the Gunners. And Barry is confident Villa have the added steel in their game and the knack of winning when not firing on all cylinders to stay on course for Champions League football.
Barry said: "It has been a fantastic season so far and it is all set up nicely now. We are in the perfect position to only look above us really and not worry about who is below us.
"We will see if we can match what we have done in the first half of the season. We have to keep working hard, hope the players can keep their form and also stay away from injuries."
Barry was part of the Villa side which topped the Premier League a decade ago under John Gregory before they faded during the second part of the season and finally finished sixth.
But, this time, the England midfielder is more confident of sustaining a challenge right through until May. The 27-year-old said: "There are similarities with 10 years ago but that season we got off to an unbelievable start, not losing for a long time, whereas this time we've built very slowly.
"I think that's probably going to help us a bit more and, this season, I think we're more capable of holding on.
"Steel is what you need. All the top teams have it. The Manchester Uniteds and Chelseas don't always play well and yet seem to come away with single-goal wins and score late goals.
"You definitely need that knack of winning games if you're going to challenge for things.
"This season, we've had it a bit more than in previous seasons. We know some days your luck is just not going to be there but, if we can maintain things more often than not, then we'll be delighted."
O'Neill is set to name his strongest available side for the trip to the Priestfield Stadium - a contrast to the line-ups he has put out in the Carling Cup and several UEFA Cup ties earlier this season.
He said: "We want to try and win this game. I've got a couple of injuries in there from the Hull game, but we will go as strong as possible. It will be a full house. The FA Cup is the FA Cup and we'll be as strong as we possibly can.
"We want to get through to the next round. We will treat the competition with the respect it deserves. There will be some changes - but they will be enforced ones. We have a real chance of winning the game and the FA Cup is particularly special."
Villa are again set to be without defenders Martin Laursen (knee) and Carlos Cuellar (hamstring), plus striker John Crew (back).
Barry, Ashley Young and Stiliyan Petrov are all one booking away from suspension and a yellow card against the Gills would rule them out of the derby with West Brom on Saturday week.