Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill flew his young squad out to Spain yesterday, in a bid to rejuvenate his players and build upon the team spirit which has helped them fight their way into contention foir European football.

O'Neill has long been a fan of a seasonal break a management technique he picked up from his mentor, the late Brian Clough. When the Northern Irishman was managing Scottish Premier League side Celtic, he regularly took his troops away to recharge their batteries midway through their campaign.

And while his players will be jetting to the warmer climes of southern Spain, the manager insists that training will still be on the agenda, with the club having a free weekend due to their FA Cup exit at the hands of Manchester United last month.

O'Neill said: "I'm a great advocate of a mid-season break. It can be good but. of course. it can work the other way. I just feel it's the same squad and the same players going into every game every week, so I thought it might be worthwhile taking them away for a few days."

O'Neill recalled his days as a midfield player at Nottingham Forest in the 1980s when Clough was a keen advocate of getting players away together on a mid-season team-building exercise.

O'Neill said: "A genius used to take us away Brian Clough. While it didn't please all of the wives, I seem to remember it did please some of them!

"I remember once he sent some flowers to the wives as a sort of a token and one of the players' wives told him where to put them!"

Villa took a break to Spain at this time last year and that kick-started the second half of their season after a dreadful November and December. They came back reinvigorated but their slump in form prior to the January transfer market ultimately cost Villa a place in Europe.

O'Neill said: "We went to Spain last year and we just feel this time that the weather might have picked up again.

"It will give the boys a chance to relax but, of course, we will also be training. In fact, the boys were of the opinion that the training we did out there last year was the toughest of the season, but at least the weather was kind to us."

Skipper Gareth Barry said the team deserved a break, particularly some of the younger players who had played almost every minute of every game so far.

With the majority of the squad also making international appearances, the England midfielder admitted it had been a tough season so far. He said: "It has been a long season and, of course, Christmas was busy. There's been a lot of games this season. Of course, you want to play every week and if there is a break, sometimes you want to play straight away, but I'm sure it will be good for the team to get away.

"We have some young players who are playing their second consecutive busy season and they need a rest. It did us good last season when we came back and finished very strongly so, hopefully, we will be able to do that again."

John Carew Villa's hat-trick hero in their 4-1 second-half demolition of Newcastle United at Villa Park on Saturday added: "We're going away to recharge our batteries and get some sun and relax a little bit, but we will also enjoy some time away together as a team. We are all looking forward to it, especially after a hard match like Saturday."

* The Football Association have confirmed that they will be studying footage of Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton's clash with Villa forward Shaun Maloney.

Barton appeared to lash out during the first half but the incident was not spotted by referee Lee Mason at the time, while the official also made no reference to the incident in his post-match report.

The FA have, however, deemed the issue worthy of further investigation and their Football Regulation committee will look at the television pictures and ask for Mason's opinion on them before deciding whether to charge Barton. if the official admits he would have taken action against the Newcastle player had he seen the clash, the FA are likely to pursue the matter further.