Former Aston Villa left-back Bryan Small believes that current incumbent Nicky Shorey will face his toughest test since arriving at the club when Wilfred Bouma returns.
Shorey has played the entirety of Villa’s last two Premier League matches having previously not started a top-flight fixture for five months.
It has been a disappointing season for the 28-year-old who would have seen his move to Villa Park as a platform for regular England recognition.
Instead Shorey has seen himself overlooked for an out-of-position right-back and been largely forced to rely on the ill-fated Uefa Cup campaign and other knock-out competitions to get a taste of the Villa first team.
For the time being, at least, it appears that Shorey has regained manager Martin O’Neill’s trust having been thrown in to face the sturdy test of Manchester United and Everton in recent matches.
However, Small, who came through the ranks at Villa before moving to Bolton Wanderers in 1996, believes that the time for Shorey to truly prove that he can cement a place in O’Neill’s plans will be when fellow left-back Bouma is once again match-fit, expected to be a matter of days rather than weeks.
Dutchman Bouma has yet to return from the sickening dislocated ankle he suffered playing against Odense in the Intertoto Cup last July.
Yet when the vastly-experienced international left-back returns, Small believes that Shorey will have a real fight to remain in the side.
“It’s upsetting for any player not to be in the starting XI but it made things worse for Shorey when a right-back was playing at left-back in front of him,” said Small, who remains at Villa as a community coach largely focusing on schools in the Black Country.
“Shorey has done well since coming back into the side and now is the time for him to knuckle down and prove that he is a good player to the manager. He has to produce the form that got him into the England team.
“Being dropped affects players in different ways. Some players battle their way back into the team but others take it badly and usually end up leaving.
“I think that Shorey himself will feel that he has a battle on his hands with Bouma returning to fitness. He has got to remain in the team until the end of the season, that’s all he can ask for.
“Then he can get away on holiday and come back and have a good pre-season. Everyone is in the same boat during pre-season and if he can start the summer flying then maybe even Bouma could find himself as the number two left-back, you just never know what football can be like.”
Villa have also confirmed, as expected, that their inspiration captain Martin Laursen will miss the rest of the season with his on-going knee problem.
Small, like most, realises just how much of an impact Laursen’s absence has had on Villa’s aspirations of finishing in the Premier League’s top four.
“Laursen was probably Villa’s most consistent player in the early part of the season, a main performer,” he added. “So obviously he has been a massive loss to the team. It’s not just about what Laursen brought to the defensive side of things on the pitch, he was scoring goals as well.”
O’Neill has received further mixed news on the injury front with regards to his strikeforce. Gabriel Agbonlahor (hamstring) is a doubt for Saturday’s home fixture with West Ham United but Emile Heskey (Achilles) may return.
Elsewhere, third-choice goalkeeper Stuart Taylor has had his loan spell with Cardiff City extended until the end of the season.