Martin Laursen has spoken of his frustration at witnessing Aston Villa’s Champions League ambitions falter during his injury-enforced absence.
Villa’s top-four challenge has capitulated in recent weeks and they are eight points adrift of Arsenal with only six Premier League games remaining.
Manager Martin O’Neill virtually conceded his team’s Champions League hopes were over after Sunday’s thrilling 3-3 draw against Everton at Villa Park.
Laursen, who has been sidelined by a severe knee problem since mid-January, agrees with his manager that Villa are all but out of the race.
The Danish defender says watching Villa’s slide from the sidelines has made grim viewing during their ten-game run without a victory in all competitions.
“We went into the home match against Tottenham knowing that a point would take us back into fourth place above Arsenal,” said Laursen, who is expected to miss the rest of the season.
“But defeat followed by two more setbacks, at Liverpool and Manchester United, left us trailing them in the race for Champions League qualification.
“It will be difficult to catch Arsenal now, particularly in view of their superior goal difference, but that’s what we have to do starting right now.”
Laursen feels Villa have been hard done by to emerge empty-handed from some of their recent games during the tumble out of the top four.
The captain was particularly impressed with the team’s attitude and display at Old Trafford despite the 3-2 defeat to Manchester United.
“I have to say that despite some poor results in recent matches the performance against Manchester United was excellent,” said Laursen.
“We have to take positives from that because not many teams go to Old Trafford and take the game to United.”
Meanwhile, James Milner believes the nature of Villa’s fightback against Everton will raise their spirits for the remaining six games.
Villa ended a run of four successive Premier League defeats by battling back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with the Toffees on Sunday.
“It was important we bounced back this week and made sure we got something out of the game,” said Milner.
“It wasn’t three points but at least we’ve stopped the rot.
“We’ve got a point on the board and can now hopefully kick on for the last six games.
“It gives the lads a bit of a morale boost this week and it is going to be happier going into training knowing we’ve got a point.
“There was great desire from the lads and great character.
“With the way Everton have been playing and with what a good team they are it is not easy to do.”
Milner was also pleased to score the free kick which sparked Villa’s second-half recovery and took his tally for the season to six goals in league and cup.
“Ashley Young has banged a few in this season but we were practising in training and I just fancied it,” added the winger.
“I gave it a go and it went in.
“It was nice and it was at an important time of the game because if we hadn’t have scored for five or ten minutes maybe it would have been difficult to get back in it as they were in the ascendancy.
“To get that goal pegged them back a bit and gave us plenty of belief.”
Villa Park has been short-listed for the Barclays Premier League Pitch of the Season alongside Arsenal and Newcastle United. The award will be announced at the awards dinner at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium on Thursday, April 30. Villa groundsman Jonathan Calderwood won the accolade when he tended the Molineux pitch for Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2003.