David O'Leary has been warned that he could miss out on one of his main summer targets if Aston Villa do not strike a deal for James Milner quickly.

O'Leary, the Villa manager, is understood to have agreed a #3 million figure with Newcastle United for the England Under-21 winger.

And Milner, just three games from the end of a season-long loan to the Villa, is believed to be keen to sign, having proved to be one of the individual highlights of Villa's frustrating campaign of under achievement.

But, with negotiations over Doug Ellis's proposed sale of the club seemingly no further advanced, the Villa board are giving the distinct impression of dragging their feet.

A deal could have been done for Milner with then-struggling Newcastle more than two months ago. But the sacking of Graeme Souness, the man who thought Milner surplus to requirements last August, slightly altered the picture.

And the Geordies' consequent resurgence and rise up the table under caretaker manager Glenn Roeder, offering the potential lure of Uefa Cup football again, could have the effect of muddying the waters.

Milner started the season on July 17 - part of the explanation behind his recent strength-sapping illness - playing in the InterToto Cup for Newcastle, scoring in two of their four games.

And, quite apart from the attraction of playing European football again, other Premiership clubs will have noted that Milner is fit and well again after the mystery virus that kept him out for six games.

For the moment, though, Villa are still in the box seat to land Milner, a deal that O'Leary proposed to chiefly fund using the money generated by last August's #1.5 million return of Nobby Solano to Newcastle, topped up by this summer's proposed completion of Mathieu Berson's move to Auxerre.

It is also believed to be doubts over the club's future that are holding up contract talks with derby hero Gary Cahill, who has been offered a much improved three-year deal.

But, in the short term, Cahill may find himself back on the bench against Manchester City tomorrow night if captain Olof Mellberg reports fit for duty.

Mellberg is expected back after the hamstring injury that has kept him out for the past five matches.

And, although O'Leary was understandably pleased with Cahill's first two starts in the Premiership - a clean sheet against West Bromwich Albion followed by a spectacular goal against Birmingham City - the youngster's performance did dip at Wigan last Tuesday night.

And, with Villa still needing a point to be certain of Premiership football again next season, O'Leary wants his strongest side out as they look for revenge against last month's FA Cup conquerors.

The likely return of Mell-berg for the last three matches would scupper the assertions that he might already have kicked his last ball for the club. And returning to action now would also help the Swede in his warmup preparations for this summer's World Cup finals in Germany.

Mellberg played the first half of the reserve-team's match at home to Manchester United at Tamworth on Saturday. Villa lost 1-0 before a crowd of over 2,100 and are unlikely to secure the FA Premier Reserve League title for the second time in three years.

A gripping contest saw United go in front after 20 minutes when Frazier Campbell accepted a short pass from Guiseppe Rossi and beat goalkeeper Robert Olejnik with a low shot.

Villa were unlucky not to equalise in the 37th minute when a shot from striker Adam McGurk was blocked on the line and the follow-up effort was somehow saved by Luke Steele.

Villa made the second half running, but Luke Moore and Shane Paul both missed chances when clear on goal.