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Former Birmingham boss believes the 25-year-old is the worthy winner of the accolade after concentrating on his football after struggling for match action last season

Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish believes Stephen Ireland was a worthy winner at the club's end of season awards, where he was named Player of the Year.

Ireland arrived at Villa Park as part of the deal that took James Milner to Manchester City in the summer of 2010 and, although he initially struggled to settle at the Midlands club, he has established himself under McLeish.

The 25-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at Newcastle as he struggled for match action under former manager Gerard Houllier but his manager feels the midfielder has made strides this term.

"Stevie became pretty popular with the fans with some good performances,” McLeish told the club's official website.

“Especially the Arsenal one at home, which unfortunately we never took any points from despite a good performance.

SIZZLING STEPHEN?
16/1 Stephen Ireland is 16/1 to score the first goal when Aston Villa play Tottenham on Sunday.

"There was the Chelsea game he was tremendous and he has really looked a different player.”

McLeish claims the Irish midfielder needed to improve his work ethic, and now believes he is starting to reap the rewards from working on his all-round game.

"But I think what for me has improved Stevie's overall game is his harrying and chasing of opponents and closing people down which you really need all your midfield players to do,” McLeish continued.

"I said to him your natural game would come if you do that side of it and he did and probably one of the tackles of the season was his 60-yard chase back on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

"He made a stealing tackle, where did that pace come from?! It shows you what can happen when a player has that confidence."

Aston Villa host fourth-placed Tottenham in their next Premier League game, with the club three points above the relegation zone with just two fixtures remaining.

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