McLeish delighted with progress of midfielder
Alex McLeish believes midfielder Stephen Ireland is finally starting to win over the Aston Villa fans ahead of this evening's FA Cup third-round clash away to Bristol Rovers.
The Villa boss has always been aware of Ireland's ability to unlock opposing defences and he impressed against Arsenal and Chelsea playing behind the main striker.
But McLeish believes adding other traits such as aggression and tackling to his game have helped Ireland to become more popular with supporters.
McLeish was even booed for substituting Ireland during the home defeat against Swansea on Monday.
McLeish said: "We haven't seen the best of Stevie but there has been a little bit of a glimpse of that in the last couple of games.
"He has now set the benchmark. If Stevie can deliver those sort of performances, he can open doors at the back.
"But it also helps if he puts himself around. The Villa fans applauded him when he got stuck in against Arsenal. That side of the game is something the fans adore players doing.
"We are trying to help Stevie to master that side of his game."
McLeish insists his decision to substitute Ireland against Swansea was to avoid the risk of injury.
He said: "I can understand the fans doing that (booing). Stevie was tired.
"The one thing I don't want to do, especially with a small squad experience-wise, is to lose someone like Ireland to injury."
McLeish has pledged to field a full-strength side against Rovers and urged his players to show their mettle against the League Two strugglers.
He said: "We don't want to have any room for complacency at the weekend. It's a potential banana skin."
McLeish, meanwhile, remains confident striker Robbie Keane will complete his loan move from Los Angeles Galaxy after the weekend.