Aston Villa left-back Wilfred Bouma provided a welcome ray of sunshine for manager Martin O'Neill by continuing his comeback from injury in playing a second 90 minutes for the reserves against Stoke on Monday night.
The Dutch international has been sidelined since dislocating an ankle during the Intertoto Cup clash with Odense BK in late July, but came through the entire recent second team game against Chelsea and set up the only goal against Stoke.
Now Bouma could come into the equation for faltering Villa's next Barclays Premier League clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford on April 5.
It would give a welcome boost for O'Neill in being able to get the balance of his defence right after the 5-0 mauling at Liverpool.
He has opted to play right-back Luke Young on the other flank during most of Bouma's absence - despite having England international Nicky Shorey available as a straight replacement.
And central midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker, who had a nightmare time at Anfield, and central defender Carlos Cuellar have filled in at right-back for the majority of the campaign.
Bouma is also set to play another reserve game away to Tottenham next Monday ahead of the trip to face the Red Devils on April 5.
Villa have gone eight games without a win in all competitions and during that period have conceded 18 goals and failed to keep a clean sheet.
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