There are two battles going on at Villa Park and victory in both will determine how Aston Villa will be perceived over the course of the next few seasons.

The most important is the fight to finish in a European position; the other is the public relations tussle with Birmingham City - and Villa are making progress on both counts.

Villa, who play at home to Charlton Athletic tonight (7.45), need only to finish seventh in the Premiership to qualify for the Uefa Cup. Their form suggests that they should achieve this goal.

In terms of convincing the public that they mean business, Villa are also making the right noises. For most of the past three years, it is Birmingham who have spent big but Villa are looking for their own moment in the sun.

Two weeks ago they revealed that they will make "significant" sums of money available to David O'Leary, the manager, to provide much- needed squad rebuilding.

While the announcement was mocked in some quarters - O'Leary was dismissed by some as being na've - it met with wide approval among Villa supporters.

So much so, in fact, that various supporters' groups have decided to postpone their planned protests against Doug Ellis, the Villa chairman, who made the funds available.

"One thing the announcement did was to give everybody a lift," O'Leary said. "The members of the Villa squad, who had previously read about which players Birmingham City were signing, were now discussing that Aston Villa were looking to sign some quality players.

"And the supporters got a huge lift from the announcement, so what has happened can only be seen as good. I made the announcement because I was told to but I never mentioned a figure.

"The figures mentioned [ which range from £15 million to £20 million] are pure speculation. I will have an idea at the end of the season what I will have available."

O'Leary's budget will no doubt increase if the team qualifies for the Uefa Cup but finishing in the top seven will still require a monumental effort. Villa, having trailed 2-0, beat Southampton 3-2 at St Mary's Stadium last Saturday and have steadily climbed the table.

O'Leary said: "I have never finished out of the top six and I would like to do it again and take Villa into Europe. I want to drive the club forward. A lot of people last season said we would never get into the top six but we did.

"People have said we will never do it again as we are going with the same squad again. If we could do it again this season it would be an even better achievement than last season.

"We need a little luck, which we haven't had so far this season. My mother is lighting a lot of candles in the church each Sunday but it is not working at the moment. The new Pope in Rome might start listening to mum!"

Villa lost 3-0 away to Charlton Athletic last August but O'Leary says that their performance that day was among their most astute this season. "I will tell you this: I hope we can play the same sort of football we played at Charlton and cut out the the stupid mistakes," he said.

"We lost 3-0 there and the result could have been entirely different but for the chances we missed. We gave away some joke goals."

If Villa defeat Charlton - and they certainly should - they could be in seventh position and with their destiny in their own hands.

O'Leary said: "I have to give credit to the players as it is the second season with a small squad and they have done fantastically well for me, particularly this season with so many playing out of position.

"I never thought we would be in the mix but the seventh place has cropped up and we can now be considered as contenders for Europe. This season has been so disjointed that we have not really been able to put out a team I have wanted on a regular basis."

Martin Laursen (knee) and Darius Vassell (ankle) have only a 50-50 chance of being fit to play. Gavin McCann has been ruled out for the season.

O'Leary has put Eric Djemba-Djemba, who has been sidelined for a month by a hamstring problem, back into the squad.

There will also be a place for Gabriel Agbonlahor, a young striker.