Unai Emery has emphasised the importance of the games ahead as Aston Villa and their fans dream of a return to Europe following the 1-0 home win over Fulham.
The result, sealed by Tyrone Mings’ 21st-minute header for the eighth victory of a 10-match unbeaten run, saw Villa move up to fifth place in the Premier League.
They are a point above Tottenham, who host fourth-placed Manchester United on Thursday. Liverpool and Brighton, in action on Wednesday at West Ham and Nottingham Forest, are four and five points behind Villa respectively with extra games in hand.
Villa boss Emery, whose side play Spurs, Liverpool and Brighton among their remaining five fixtures, was asked after the Fulham contest if European football next season was now an expectation for him.
And he said: “I have to try to be ambitious, to be realistic, and as well, play under pressure – because I like playing under pressure. Because when we play under pressure it is because we have something to do.
“We are now a candidate, we are fifth, but Tottenham is playing (on Thursday), Liverpool is one match less than us, Brighton three matches less than us.
“We are going to play against Liverpool, against Tottenham, against Brighton…could be key matches to really keep being candidates to get a European position.
“I think the dreams, they are here – OK, it is good I think for everybody, and we can share with our supporters. But I was speaking with the team – I like to play key matches. Like today.
“We are close to getting (a top-10 finish), and the next step is to try to be a candidate in a European position.”
Villa last played in Europe in 2010, when they lost in the Europa League qualifying rounds.
This season Emery has overseen some turnaround for the midlands club, who were 17th, outside the relegation zone on goals scored, when they lost 3-0 at Fulham in October, their final game under the Spaniard’s predecessor Steven Gerrard.
On this occasion they were rarely troubled by a Fulham outfit whose only officially registered shot on goal came in the opening minute when Andreas Pereira sent an acrobatic effort wide.
Emery said: “Good performance. The first half we really controlled the game.
“The second half I think the match changed a bit, we were a little bit more tired maybe. We didn’t control the game with the ball like we did first half, but I think they demanded of us different work in the second half, and we did it.”
The 83rd minute saw the ball in the Villa net, Harrison Reed’s delivery going in off Mings, but the flag was up for offside.
Fulham boss Marco Silva, whose side stay ninth, said: “First half was not good enough from ourselves, we were too shy, not aggressive enough. We conceded a completely sloppy goal. The first half was not at our level, the standards.
“Second half, even if we didn’t create enough chances to equalise, at least we were completely different, our pressure was completely different…(but) our front line didn’t create enough.”
Silva confirmed Willian had to withdraw from the starting line-up after feeling a hamstring issue in the warm-up, and that Harry Wilson had been substituted in the 17th minute due to feeling unwell.