Barry battle looms for Villa

Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill has warned Liverpool he has not conceded defeat in his battle to keep Gareth Barry.

Barry is reported to be keen on a £10m move to Anfield after Reds boss Rafael Benitez made his interest in the England midfielder known.

However, Villa are ready to pull out all the stops to persuade Barry his future remains in the midlands with club owner Randy Lerner set to play a role.

O’Neill said: “We want to do our utmost to keep Gareth because he’s so important to us and is back to his brilliant best.

“It’s interesting and ironic that apparently there was an offer from an Italian club for Steven Gerrard, yet Liverpool were quick to remind everyone that he is under contract.

“Gareth has two years left on his contract and we want him to stay. The chairman will talk to him to show how much we value him.

“I can’t understand why Gareth would want to leave. He’s only 27 and has been brilliant for us.

“He has been selected for England and has played regularly for them because of his exploits with Villa.”

Barry underlined his value to Villa by firing his side’s second with a blistering finish in the 2-2 draw with West Ham at Upton Park.

However, Dean Ashton struck a late equaliser to secure a share of the spoils the Hammers scarcely deserved.

Everton’s victory over Newcastle denied Villa fifth place and a spot in the UEFA Cup, but they can still qualify for Europe via the Intertoto Cup.

O’Neill said: “I’m very pleased with the team because we’ve taken big strides since last season.

“It’s disappointing we’ve missed out on the UEFA Cup but with Everton beating Newcastle it doesn’t seem so bad.

“We’re in the Intertoto cup for definite now, which means we have to play 17 games in the middle of June!

“What it really means is that we have to be back a week earlier and be competitive sooner than expected because the ties are mid to late July.”

Hammers boss Alan Curbishley faces his own battle to keep players out of the hands of bigger clubs, most notably Ashton.

Curbishley said: “Every club has its problem over sides wanting to buy their players – look at Tottenham and Dimitar Berbatov.

“It’s something you have to deal with if it comes along but fans saw last summer that we had players coming in rather than leaving. I’m not under pressure to cut the wage bill.”

Nolberto Solano opened the scoring for West Ham with a curling free-kick before Ashley Young showed composure to produce a fine first-half equaliser.

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