The absence of Gareth Barry for Aston Villa when they play away to Sheffield United on Monday is a setback that could have far-reaching consequences — for positive reasons.

Barry is suspended after picking up a fifth booking of the season but, according to Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, this will give other members of the squad the chance to shine.

Villa's midfield has been solid this season. Gavin McCann has rivalled Barry for being the club's most inspirational player under O'Neill, while Stiliyan Petrov has shown flashes of brilliance that give hope for the club's immediate future.

Encouragingly, the emergence of Isaiah Osbourne, a teenage midfield player, has given hope to those who believe that Villa's youth policy is the best in the country.

"At the moment and until we get more strength in the squad — and more strength in depth — we miss the major players in the side," O'Neill said.

"Now it might not show all the time — and I know we went to Everton and won without him which was great and we have to try to do that again — but he's been inspirational for us.

"If we could get an extra ten or 20 per cent from everyone, then that should accommodate the loss. It never works out that way, but what we want is for someone to step in and rise to the occasion."

O'Neill is sure to have money to spend when the transfer window opens in three weeks' time, but the better players under O'Neill are, largely, those who have been developed by the youth policy.

In addition to Barry and Osbourne, there have been Gabriel Agbonlahor, Liam Ridgewell, Gary Cahill and Luke Moore (before the striker was injured). It is, Osbourne suggests, a veritable feast.

"Gabby has been on fire this season and that's no surprise with the quality he possesses," Osbourne said. "He's got so much pace and power. He was phenomenal for the reserves and academy sides and he's definitely taking that form into the first team. It's great to see.

"But we've got so many lads coming through the ranks. Craig Gardner is a really good player — a box-to-box midfielder — and goalkeeper Robert Olejnik is putting pressure on Thomas Sorensen and Stuart Taylor.

"Then we've got Sam Williams coming through. He's done well when he's been out on loan and he's a player who has changed position from midfield to striker over the past few seasons.

"But he's not the first. I started out as a striker, then moved to defence and finally ended up in midfield. It's definitely my favourite position and I'm looking to make a real impression over the next few months.

"There's been so many players come through the ranks at this club, going back many years, looking at the likes of Gareth Barry and Lee Hendrie through to players like Gary Cahill and Liam Ridgewell.

"That's a real incentive for the lads at the club at the moment. They know if they work hard and they're good enough, they'll get a chance."

O'Neill has sympathy for Aaron Hughes, the Northern Ireland international right back, who is now fit after injury but unable to return to the starting line-up.

"We shifted things around. Aaron's completely fit now and that's good for us and he's unlucky not to be in the starting line-up at the moment," he said.

"I didn't change it that much because the side had done well in the previous couple of games away from home. "There's always the possibility of us conceding goals, but we've been doing okay, or trying to."

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