Only time will tell if Gavin McCann will be the difference between Aston Villa fighting for survival this season and chasing for a European place.
Whatever, you could sense the relief throughout the team, and around Villa Park, when he successfully came through the match against Burnley on Tuesday night.
McCann, a defensive midfield player, had not appeared for Villa since their 4-0 defeat away to West Ham United on September 12 because of a recurring knee problem.
There was no evidence of the injury against Burnley - McCann was one of Villa's better players - and his return to the team is timely, given the form of recent matches.
No player is more important to Villa. And no player receives less credit.
That, according to Kevin Phillips, is just the way McCann likes it.
Phillips scored in the 1-0 victory against Burnley that sent Villa into the fourth round of the League Cup. But the return of McCann should have far- reaching consequences.
"Gav does not get the credit he deserves," Phillips said. "He knows that. I know Gav very well and he prefers that. He goes about his job in a tremendous way and he was a great asset for us.
"It was great for him to get 90 minutes under his belt. He has had problems with his knees. Hopefully that is behind me now. He can hopefully push on.
"Gav gives that little bit of extra bite in midfield. His tackling is excellent and that is the strongest part of his game. He is as fit as anything and covers every inch of the park and will still walk off as if he hasn't done that."
McCann will be fit to play for Villa away to Manchester City on Monday and there is also the possibility that Milan Baros and Aaron Hughes will return to the team. Suddenly, there is the expectation that Villa will be at full strength.
"We wanted to build on the derby and didn't do that because we lost to Wigan Athletic last Saturday," Phillips said. "It is getting tight down at the bottom of the league. Manchester City are having a tremendous time at the moment. They have got a fantastic manager. There is definitely a chance for us to go there and get a result.
"Every team is beatable and if we can go there and perform the way we know we can, there is no reason why we can't get something.
"I am no stranger to the bottom of the table. I've experienced it two or three times now and it is a situation I don't want to stay in for a long time.
"This is a club that definitely belongs in the top ten. It was a disappointing season last year but there is still time to get it right this time around.
"We've got Milan Baros to come back and Lee Hendrie is back in training now so hopefully we can start turning the corner. The manager has been frustrated by the injuries but we have got strength and quality in depth and it's time for us to pull together and start putting a run together."
But while Phillips is proving his worth, the form of Juan Pablo Angel is a cause for concern. The Colombia international striker has not scored this season, having failed to set the world alight last season. It appears that Phillips and Baros are Villa's firstchoice strikers, but the competition for places is strong.
"Centre forwards go through those runs when you can't score," Phillips said. "I've been through those on occasions. Juan is a confident lad, you've seen it in training and it doesn't seem to be affecting him.
"He just needs that goal. We've all seen what he can do. I am sure when it comes, a load will follow it. He has proved he can do it. He just needs that little bit of luck and I'm sure he will go on a decent run.
"It is important to try to get a settled side. People say 'who do you prefer to play alongside?' and I wouldn't answer a question like that. All I would say is 'as long as I am playing' and that's all I try to focus on, to try and perform and keep my place.
"We have quality centreforwards here. When we get Milan Baros back, he is one who is maybe a certainty to start every game because of what he came here for.
"It's up to the other three of us to fight for our places. As long as I am in the team scoring goals, hopefully I'll stake a claim." Angel seems to be suffering in the way that Darius Vassell did for Villa. But Vassell has moved to Manchester City and will play against Villa on Monday.
"Darius is powerful and strong," Phillips said. " Perhaps he has been criticised for not scoring the amount of goals that he should, but it looks like he is getting a few at Manchester City and he is a player we've got to look out for."
At 32, Phillips is showing the form that made him an England international a few years back. He is not injury-prone, he is naturally fit, and there is no indication that his top-flight days are drawing to a close. On the contrary, he could still have five years of Premiership football left in him.
"I feel I can play on for a few more years yet," Phillips said. "I look at someone like Teddy Sheringham [ West Ham United striker] and he is still producing the goods at 39. If I can play until then, it would be fantastic.
"There is no reason why I can't. I look after myself. I think that is they key now.
We've got so many people at the club now that make sure you look after yourself that there is no way of going wrong.
"As long as I am still enjoying it, as long as I am still producing the goods, I'll go on as long as I can.
"I think that is generally the way in the Premiership. It isn't like it was in my early days. Dieticians? You'd never heard of them. Now it is all laid on a plate for you so you'd be daft not to make use of it, especially for someone coming to the back end of their career. It could extend it."