Given: Villa starting to see Ireland at his best
IRISH international Shay Given believes Aston Villa are starting to see the "real Stephen Ireland" after praising the recent form of the former Ireland midfielder.
Given saw at first-hand the potential of Ireland when the duo were team-mates at Manchester City and describes his form during that period as "phenomenal".
Ireland has struggled to make a similar impact at Villa and last season was loaned out to Newcastle by the then-manager Gerard Houllier.
But he has shown encouraging signs in recent weeks and was the club's official man of the match in Saturday's 1-1 home draw with Everton.
Given said: "Stephen has had a frustrating time but during the last few weeks you have seen the real Stephen Ireland.
"During the win at Chelsea, in glimpses at Villa Park and again against Everton, he has shown that if we can get him on the ball he is very comfortable.
"He can open defences with split passes. He is best in that free role he is occupying. He has the talent to see passes other players don't. His confidence has taken a lift, he wants to be on the ball more and is more bubbly around the place. That can only be good for the club."
Given, who has returned to fitness after a six week lay-off with a hamstring injury, added: "Stephen was phenomenal at Manchester City.
"He was in the Premier League team of the season. The Villa fans haven't seen that enough. But we know it's there and I have seen how good a player he can be.
"He was the first name on the team sheet -- and we had a lot of big players at Man City then.
"He was a great player for us and hopefully we can get that out of him at Villa."
Given believes Villa boss Alex McLeish will find it difficult to leave Ireland out of the side if he maintains his current form.
He said: "Stephen seems a bit more positive about everything and more confident.
"Personally, I just think he wants a run in the team. The gaffer is going to find it hard to leave him out."