Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has received welcome news about the recovery prospects of his four latest injury-hit players.

Aaron Hughes was stretchered off in the Boxing Day defeat at White Hart Lane after a clash of knees which also removed his fellow defender, Olof Mellberg, from the fray.

Added to that, Stiliyan Petrov lasted only until half-time with a tight hamstring and young midfield workhorse Craig Gardner gritted his teeth and played through the final 20 minutes as an emergency right-back with a calf injury.

That fresh quartet of injury woes all came on top of the pre-match loss of veteran striker Chris Sutton with blurred vision, to add to an injury list that already contained the names of long-term casualties Luke Moore, Mark Delaney and Martin Laursen, as well as goalkeepers Thomas Sorensen and Stuart Taylor.

That has all clearly been a factor in Villa's eight-match winless run and heightened the need for reinforcements.

But, after taking a closer look at the four new arrivals in the Bodymoor Heath treatment room, the signs are more encouraging than seemed likely following Tuesday's 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.

It now looks as if the two knee injuries are just bruising and may not be as bad as first feared.

If Mellberg and Hughes do not need surgery and report fit for Saturday's visit to Charlton Athletic, that would be a doubly unexpected bonus.

"I'm hoping they shouldn't be too bad," said O'Neill. "That's what the physios are now saying. We'll see how they are in a couple of days."

Petrov may have saved himself a longer injury absence by coming off when he did at half-time, as Gavin McCann had with a similar problem against Bolton Wanderers a fortnight ago.

And O'Neill is confident that Sutton will also be the better for having the day off on Boxing Day.

"Sutton had blurred vision during the game against Manchester United," said O'Neill. "It didn't clear up in time, so it was better to be absolutely sure.

"He was complaining about it after the game and, after 48 hours, it wasn't clearing up enough for him to take his place."

Of all Tuesday's walking wounded, O'Neill was most impressed by the defiant courage shown by 20-year-old Gardner.

"He picked up a knock on his calf with 20 minutes to go that, in normal circumstances, would have forced him to come off," said the Villa boss. "But he knew that would have left us down to 10 men and that said a lot about him and the determination in the whole team.

"Up until the other week, when we put him in, I did not really know his capabilities, but his whole attitude epitomises the enthusiasm."

At a time when O'Neill himself is suffering his worst run since his Leicester City side went ten matches without a win - ironically, a run ended against Villa in the notorious 2000 League Cup semi-final second-leg at Filbert Street - it at least cushions the blow, knowing he still has such spirit in the team.

"I'm not a fortune-teller, by any stretch of the imagination," said O'Neill. "But I could see some of these things coming.

"I'm asking young players stepping into the game to perform real mens' jobs.

"That will come, but not at the rate I'd have liked. Gabby Agbonlahor, who has overall been very good, better than you could ever have imagined he'd be, has played more games this season than he probably thought he would in the next two. But we need to buiild a better squad to cope with the trials and tribulations of the Premiership.

"I get a bit carried away when we've won and, equally, I can get more down than anyone when we've lost but it's a balancing act.

"I've got to be careful as we've got a lot of young players who are having to learn very quickly. You don't want them to go on the field with no confidence.

"In recent weeks, we've been playing pretty well without having the results to show for it but we've got to keep believing we're on the right track.

"We were knocked back a bit against Spurs by having to make our three substitutions by half-time but the bottom line is that you have to win.

"Although we were always in the game at Tottenham, it was not quite enough.

"To use a good cricket analogy, a few weeks ago, we were making the scoreboard tick over, but now we need to do something about it, which makes Charlton on Saturday a big game for us."