Aston Villa hot-shot Gabriel Agbonlahor believes the club's supporters are playing such a vital role in the team's good form that they are their 12th man.

The Erdington-born 21-year-old striker says the supporters are having such a positive and uplifting emphasis on the team that they are spurring the side on to pursue ambitions of European football.

Villa Park is averaging attendances of at least 40,000 with the number of fans making trips to watch the side's away matches also capping national averages.

All of the season's matches were virtual sell-outs with the enticing FA Cup third-round tie at home to Manchester United on Saturday evening also heading for another capacity crowd.

For away matches, too, the players have been impressed by the devotion of the Villa following up and down the country. More than 5,000 - the club's biggest away support of the season - were at the JJB Stadium to see Villa beat Wigan 2-1 last Saturday and even a combination of Christmas holidays, a late kick-off and the fact that the match against Tottenham was televised failed to put off the diehards on New Year's Day.

A crowd of 41,690 saw Villa beat Spurs 2-1 and Agbonlahor believes the sheer numbers and their vocal support are a massive boost for the team.

He said: "The fans have been terrific. They are right behind us and were right behind us - particularly the Holte End all through the game. We could hear them all the way through and that helped us a lot especially when we were pushing on for the winning goal."

The players responded by throwing their shirts into the crowd at the end and Agbonlahor said the team appreciated the support particularly at what was an expensive time of year when matches come thick and fast.

The England Under-21 striker is calling for more of the same as Villa prepare for one of their toughest tests this season on Saturday.

Agbonlahor said: "Traditionally we have not done very well against United in the past but you never know what to expect in a cup game. We know Manchester United will be tough opponents but we have the home advantage and our fans can make a difference.

"We will try our best on Saturday. We have got to go out against Manchester United from the off like we did against Chelsea on Boxing Day. We have to get in there and mix them up a bit.

"We have got to play our game and we are not afraid of anyone. We have to try to stop them while we try to kick on and get some goals ourselves."

Agbonlahor said a good cup run was important and he believes Villa can use the team spirit and belief which has helped in the league to good advantage. Villa climbed into sixth place in the Premier League after victory over Juande Ramos's side on Tuesday.

Villa had led in the 40th minute through Olof Mellberg but lost ground after Jermaine Defoe equalised. Martin Laursen snatched the winner in the 84th minute from another Villa trademark set-piece.

Agbonlahor said: "That was another comeback and it was great to get that second goal and see them off. That was a big result, especially if you look at where Spurs are in the league. Spurs, like us, are one of the teams chasing European football and this result was massive because it pushes us forward and pushes them back.

"We are really pushing on and if we carry on playing the way we are we will be pushing for Europe. It was vital to get the home win, too, after two draws and two defeats at home. If you look at how we have been playing we have been playing well but not always getting the results at home.

"We started off the season playing well at home so hopefully we can build on this and continue to improve our home form and if that comes then we can contunie to push up the table."

Agbonlahor said the team had been working on set-pieces in training - a ploy which has paid off with Martin O'Neill's side the most prolific scorers of goals from set play in the Premier League. In all 18 of Villa's 37 goals this season have come from set-pieces - either corners or free kicks - with defenders and midfielders chipping in to help the cause.

Agbonlahor said: "We were disappointed earlier in the season that we were not putting set-pieces away but now we are starting to score from them and that is starting to win us games. I have got a couple of players chasing my record of seven goals so far so I have to keep on scoring myself!"

The youngster, whose pace and skill has lit up the league this season, has once again been linked with a possible call-up to the full England squad this year but he is taking it all in his stride. New England manager Fabio Cappello may come calling but Agbonlahor just wants to concentrate on his Villa career.

He said: "I would love to play for my country at senior level and it would be nice to get that recognition but I am concentrating on playing well for Villa and that is the most important thing. I just want to keep my place, keep scoring and help the team. I just want to keep on improving."