David O'Leary refuses to class tomorrow's clash at Sunderland as a 'six-pointer' even though Villa could fall into the relegation zone if they lose.
The Villa manager welcomes back Aaron Hughes and Wilfred Bouma from their respective injuries, but will be without Mark Delaney who suffered a groin strain whilst on international duty with Wales in midweek.
O'Leary takes his team to the Stadium of Light on the back of five losses in six games and is fully aware of the pressure building up on his squad, not helped by further speculation over the future of Gareth Barry.
The midfielder was linked yesterday with a move to Newcastle United, where manager Graeme Souness was thought to be preparing a £2 million bid.
O'Leary will lock horns for the first time with his old Irish colleague Mick McCarthy in a fixture that is crucial to both sides as they bid to prise themselves away from the relegation zone.
There is extra spice generated with the fact that three former Sunderland players will be returning to the Stadium of Light for the first time; Kevin Phillips, Gavin McCann and Thomas Sorensen.
However, O'Leary is convinced that despite the parlous positions of both teams, there is no reason for panic stations just yet.
This is a big game but I am not going to buy into the theory that it is a six-point game or all that crap," he said
"I only buy into the sixpoint theory when you are well past Christmas.
"This is an important game, as it could be a good three points to move on or, if you lose, you have every chance of dropping into the bottom three.
"What we have to do is play the way we did against a good Liverpool side, as that was more like us."
O'Leary is anticipating a stern test at the Stadium of Light despite Sunderland's failure to win a home game all season.
They have made a wretched start on their return to the Premiership but a win would lift them to within one point of Villa.
"I saw them play against Newcastle and it could have gone either way and also when they beat Middlesbrough and there is a lot of good attacking intent about them," added O'Leary.
"They play an in your face pressure style, similar to us, so I think it makes for a hightempo game at a good stadium with good support.
"But we are going there to win. I know Mick McCarthy and this is my first game against him managerially, so I am looking forward to it."
O'Leary admits that despite their friendship, McCarthy wasn't overly enamoured to hear from him in the summer of 2003.
Sunderland had been relegated and vultures were circling around their best players when O'Leary decided to phone McCarthy to tell him that he intended a feast of his own.
"I phoned Mick and said my chairman would be speaking to his about McCann and Sorensen," admitted O'Leary.
"I'd told him that I would have liked Phillips too, as everyone knew they had to offload those players because of wages and the fact that they didn't want to play in the Championship.
"He said that he had already received a few of those calls and that there would be plenty more coming.
"He didn't sell Sorensen, McCann or Phillips because they were bad players, but because of financial reasons."