Gareth Barry has hinted at the growing conviction in the Aston Villa dressing room that they can qualify for the Champions League and prove their critics wrong.

However, the midfield stalwart insists that Villa will continue to publicly play down their chances of finishing in the Premier League’s top four.

Some pundits have suggested that Martin O’Neill’s team are in a false position among the top flight’s elite at the midpoint of the season.

Barry is happy for Villa to be continually written off because it transfers the pressure to the rivals around them in the table.

“We are halfway through the season and that is a great sign to be where we are,” said Barry, ahead of Tuesday night’s Premier League fixture at Hull City.

“It puts a bit of pressure on teams below you if you do keep winning. We have won back-to-back away games against Everton and West Ham United.

“The critics can keep saying we are not up there near the top of the table on merit but, if we can stay there until April, then people will start changing their minds.

“We don’t mind not being taken seriously. It takes the pressure off. We will probably keep talking that way ourselves – at least, we will in public. It is all right starting well and then dropping away but here we are, halfway through a season and that shows the massive effort put in so far.

“We have picked up our form over the last six games [they are unbeaten in seven, with four wins] and have gone shooting up the table. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

With a knee injury ruling out captain Martin Laursen for a month and Carlos Cuellar doubtful with a knock sustained at West Ham nine days ago , Villa are set to continue with a makeshift defence at the KC Stadium.

Zat Knight, fresh from his last-gasp equaliser in the dramatic draw against top-four rivals Arsenal on Boxing Day, will deputise in central defence with Nigel Reo-Coker again filling in at right-back.

Fellow defender Luke Young was impressed with how the new-look backline adjusted in the 2-2 draw with Arsene Wenger’s Gunners.

“I thought the new back four did really well,” said Young. “Nigel came in at full-back and he was absolutely brilliant in the first half.

“He was disappointed with their first goal – he felt responsible – and he apologised to the lads at half-time but he certainly didn’t let it affect him. In the second half, he was superb too.

“Zat came in and did a fantastic job in the heart of the defence. He capped off his day with a wonder goal right at the death. The first touch was brilliant and his finish was tremendous.”

Knight, whose stoppage-time strike against Arsenal was his first goal since his Villa debut against Chelsea in September 2007, has hailed the battling qualities of O’Neill’s men.

“We have a great fighting spirit,” he said. “We believe we can beat anybody and we certainly felt we could get back against Arsenal – even when we did go 2-0 down.

“We didn’t let our heads drop and we kept believing that we were good enough to get back in the match.”