David O'Leary says that Aston Villa's hopes of an end-ofseason surge up the Premier League risk being wrecked by suspensions after he was blocked from making any January transfer window signings.
O'Leary has one of the smallest squads in the top flight and has virtually employed the same 15 or 16 players every week.
They have turned Villa's season around with a run of only two defeats in the last 13 League games to push them towards a mid-table spot.
But O'Leary is concerned that suspensions will hinder their chances of repeating the run of two years ago when Villa went from the bottom three in December to a topsix spot in May.
Gavin McCann, the pivotal midfield player, is suspended for the visit of Newcastle on Saturday while Olof Mellberg and Jlloyd Samuel are one caution away from a ban.
O'Leary said: "The spirit in the camp is unbelievable and the lads are giving me everything they have got. They are a fantastic bunch to deal with.
"They are managing to find energy levels I wondered would be possible with the same lads basically having to be involved in every match.
"On Saturday against Middlesbrough I wondered if they could raise their performance levels so soon after the Chelsea game with us not being able to freshen things up but they were excellent.
"We are on a really great run since early November but we have got a few suspensions coming up and that is what is going to kill us now with not being able to bring anyone in during January.
"That is the reason why, against Middlesbrough, I took off Olof and Jlloyd because they are on four bookings - to make sure they are available for the Newcastle game.
"But if they get booked next week we are going to have a load out for the FA Cup game with Manchester City and that's the problem with us at the moment."
In addition to McCann, James Milner cannot play against Newcastle because of the loan agreement between the two clubs while another midfielder, Eirik Bakke, has returned to Leeds United after a loan period.
O'Leary is likely to give a full debut to reserve midfielder Craig Gardner against Newcastle because of his lack of numbers in midfield.
Gareth Barry, the Villa midfield player, said: "The manager will have been disappointed not to have got any new players in during the January window."
Gardner is to sign a contract extension to the summer of 2009.
He made his senior debut as a second-half substitute in the 4-0 demolition of Everton on Boxing Day and also came off the bench in the derby victory at West Bromwich Albion. Gardner is the latest Villa Academy graduate to catch O'Leary's eye after the likes of Steven Davis, Liam Ridgewell and Luke Moore. n Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd insists he is yet to approach anyone over the vacant manager's job at St James' Park amid a frenzy of speculation over Graeme Souness' successor.
Former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri's odds shortened markedly after interest from Spain, with Sam Allardyce slipping behind hot favourite Martin O'Neill following Bolton chairman Phil Gartside's insistence he is not interested in a job at another Barclays Premiership club.