The form that has seen Martin Laursen emerge as Aston Villa's defensive linchpin and the high-profile signings of Zat Knight and Curtis Davies have forced Gary Cahill to seek first-team football away from Villa Park.

The 21-year-old yesterday returned to his home city when he agreed to head to Sheffield United on loan for the next three months and he will go straight into Bryan Robson's squad for the match with Crystal Palace this weekend.

Cahill, who has become a regular squad member with England Under-21s, has made just two appearance for Martin O'Neill's team this term after playing in half of Villa's Premiership games last year.

But he has fallen well down the pecking order, particularly following the purchase of Knight from Fulham and Davies' loan move from West Bromwich Albion. Cahill insists he is happy at Villa Park and is not looking to make the switch permanent.

"My career's going fine but I felt what was important was keeping it going by playing games," Cahill said. "I played a lot of matches last year for Villa and then for England at the European Under-21 Championships this summer. So it's important for me to be playing regular football.

"I spoke to Lee Hendrie the other day and he told me he's back in full training and be may be back in contention to play this weekend. He said the manager and players are great and the manager gives good advice and that helped me make my decision.

"Going home was a consideration, but not that much because I have a house down here and I'll have to get somewhere up there now.

"The most important thing for me was playing for a big club that's doing well. Sheffield United have just come down, they've got a big squad with some great summer signings and hopefully they're starting to pick up now they're getting some good results again."

Cahill could have had a choice of several Championship sides. Indeed it was only a few weeks ago that he rejected the chance to stay in the Midlands and go on loan to Albion.

"It was a difficult decision," he said. "It's like when the West Brom thing came up - I really want to be playing for Villa.

"But I looked at the overall picture and Villa are quite strong in the defensive department at the moment. I respect the gaffer for letting me go out on loan, even if it's for four or five weeks because it's better than not playing at Villa."

Davies, who has joined for a year with a view to a more permanent arrangement, is anxious to make his Villa debut.

He played and scored in the reserve team's 4-1 win over Derby County earlier this week and, having sat on the bench for the league match against Manchester City last weekend, is keen to press his claim.

"I'm ready to kick on and get into the first team. I'm ready for action and I'm ready to start," Davies said.

"It was good to be part of the 16 on Sunday - even if we didn't get the result we wanted. I've been out in the cold for five weeks, so it was great to be part of it. Hopefully next time it will be in a playing capacity.

"Now I'll keep working hard in training, keep trying to impress and hopefully I'll get the nod."