Martin O’Neill is backing out-of-sorts midfielder Steven Davis to recapture the form which won him Aston Villa’s Player Of The Year award last season.
The Northern Ireland international was one of the few success stories in a campaign of gross under-achievement which saw Villa flirt with being relegated from the Premiership.
He was even linked with a move to Manchester United during the January transfer window. But this season Davis has been a shadow of himself and has struggled to earn a first team spot even when the likes of Gareth Barry, Gavin McCann and Stiliyan Petrov have been absent.
O’Neill said: "I have watched the games from last season and I think there could be a number of reasons for what has happened. Steve is a young lad and he is basically learning the game.
"Sometimes when you step into a side that is not playing at its best, you’ve got no fear. You’ve gone in there and are playing pretty well and have plenty of confidence about yourself.
"Then you become more established in the side and, ironically, the wee things that didn’t concern you before now concern you and that’s all part of the process and of him coming to grips with it.
"That is my view of it and there is no doubt Steven has not reached the same heights of last season. But my own view is he is very young and he can achieve those things all over again.
"I have spoken to him. He is a very quiet lad and just that sparkle he had last season hasn’t returned yet but I’ve no doubt when he gets to grips with it all that it will do so."
O’Neill added: "Steven played in the side to begin with this season even though he missed a week of pre-season and wasn’t out with us in Germany and Holland pre-season. His past performances got him into the side.
"If we had a bigger squad, I don’t mind rotating a wee bit but that is not the reason Steve is not in the side.
"He is still searching for that form that made him a very good player."