It hardly taxed the brain power of English football's foremost soothsayers to decide that Martin O'Neill was going to prove a success with Aston Villa.

But the Villa manager is still keeping his feet firmly on the floor, based on the prophetic bit of star gazing he did himself before last weekend's 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur.

In pointing out that Villa had then only played seven games and a lot could still happen over the next 31, O'Neill pointed out: "Boys can lose form, Juan Pablo Angel could miss two sitters and lose a bit of confidence. Things like that can happen."

In actual fact, Angel's nightmare two minutes at on Saturday added up to a missed penalty and an own goal. But the point O'Neill was making remains the same.

Yes, he's pleased to be the manager of the Premiership's only unbeaten team — not the worst statistic in a week when his boss Randy Lerner has been in the country. But, even with eight games gone now, there's a long, long way to go.

"Maybe it's just me," O'Neill said. "Maybe it's just my old defence mechanism kicking in because I've been around the block a few times and I know what happens.

"You get hit once and the honeymoon period is over, gone.

"But, while I didn't envisage that we would go unbeaten for two months, which is false because we have had two international breaks, I am just delighted with the start and the attitude of the players."

O'Neill admits to having certain preconceived ideas about the squad he was to inherit. After all, he did sneak one look at the Villa side he was destined to inherit when he went along to Craven Cottage last Christmas and witnessed that classic 3-3 draw with Fulham (this Saturday's Villa Park visitors) which, in a disappointing campaign, was probably the best Villa game of last season.

"I went for enjoyment's sake," he said. "And it was a really exciting game but I wasn't thinking that was going to be my next job.

"Then when I got around to studying the videos, I saw one or two things that the players have done since which were a pleasant surprise."

And one or two, like the perennially unsung Gavin McCann, have even changed his mind for him.

"Of course you are going to form some impression from the videos you've watched," said O'Neill, "but I came here and tried to have a really open mind. And McCann is one who has shown to me that he is a better player than I would have led myself to believe. He is a really decent player. And there are a few like that."

As for O'Neill's thoughts with regard to his first-ever meeting as a manager with Fulham, first choice goalie Thomas Sorensen, who missed Saturday's 1-1 home draw with a shoulder injury picked up on international duty, is on course to return.

The Danish keeper has returned to light training but, if he is

still struggling come Saturday, O'Neill will not risk him and is adamant that he will be happy to stick with Stuart Taylor following a confident home debut.

It still looks too soon, though, for Gary Cahill to consider a first start of the season despite a confident 90 minutes in front of O'Neill as the reserves came from two down to beat West Ham United 3-2 at Upton Park on Tuesday night.

Cahill, out since picking up a knee injury just as O'Neill was taking charge during Villa's pre-season trip to Germany and Holland, was up against former Villa loan signing Carlton Cole and Marlon Harewood, who scored a hat-trick for the Hammers against Villa's first team at Upton Park 14 months ago.

But he admitted: "It wasn't a bad game for a defender to return in. Carlton Cole and Marlon Harewood have caused all sorts of problems in the Premiership, so there was no chance of an easy comeback. But that was good for me and I thought I did okay. I've been out for a few weeks and it has been frustrating, but I'm on my way back now and that's all that matters."

One more piece in the recreation of Celtic's backroom team at Villa Park was added yesterday when Jim Hendry was tempted south from Scotland with an offer to become the club's new fitness coach.

Hendry was inherited by O'Neill in 2000 when he became Celtic boss. And now he has been headhunted as the replacement for Villa's previous fitness coach Steve McGregor, who left shortly after David O'Leary's departure last summer.

Assuming he and his family settle in England, Hendry will have followed his old boss, John Robertson, Steve Walford, Stiliyan Petrov and Didier Agathe in those to so far make the move from Celtic Park to Villa Park.