Mark Delaney believes his Under-23s can still gain promotion from Premier League 2 this season.
The former Villa player takes his team to Fulham on Friday evening for their latest league clash, eager to banish memories of successive defeats against Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion.
Manchester United and West Ham are clear at the top and battling it out for the one automatic promotion spot, while sixth place Villa are trying to climb into the top five and secure a play-off berth.
When asked if his Young Lions can still go up, Delaney said: “Absolutely. We set our sights early in the season. Why enter a competition and not try to win it?
“We do focus on development, but I’ve made sure the lads know that we want to go for promotion.
“I know Manchester United and West Ham have run away with it a little bit, but we want to make sure we’re aiming for those playoff places.”
Having carved out a successful playing career himself, with Cardiff, Villa and internationally with Wales, Delaney knows what it takes to make it in the professional ranks.
And the Under-23s boss is keen to ensure his players have the best possible chance to step up to the first team when called upon.
He said: “We try to mirror how the first team do things. I’ve spoken with Richard O’Kelly and the gaffer, so when they do come up [to the first team], like with Indiana [Vassilev], it’s not foreign.
“Any kind of post-match and pre-match training is like the demands up there.
“We do look at other teams and how they set up. We do have a very good analysis department. It is a very professional way of preparation, so when my players do go to the first team, it’s not foreign.”
Villa Park staged the reverse fixture against Fulham in October, with Indiana Vassilev climbing off the bench to score the only goal of the game seven minutes from time.
The Lilywhites are second bottom in the table and have lost their last four matches, but Delaney is expecting a tough encounter.
“We played them early in the season, and they’ve got some talent,” he said.
“They’re very much about development, so they’ll be a young team as well. I speak to Mark Pemberton a lot and know him well.
“I know we’re both about developing youth, so it should be a young but very good game.”