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Premier League

Gerard Houllier delighted with improving Stewart Downing

Gerard Houllier has hailed the improvement in Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing during the current campaign.

England head coach Fabio Capello watched Downing - and Ashley Young - produce outstanding performances in the 4-1 win over Blackburn on Saturday.

Houllier believes Downing has overcome any reservations he may have had over the broken foot which sidelined for eight months.

The Villa boss said: "I think the injury was maybe in the back of Stewart's mind at the beginning of the season.

"But now he looks like he's doing well and enjoying it. Stewart is outstanding. He has improved a lot.

"Stewart is more confident, he can pass, he can score, his goal against Blackburn was fantastic.

"He can make runs sometimes to cover, sometimes to fill in, and his technique is good, his awareness is good.

"Stewart can play on either side, right or left. He's one of the rare players who can use his right or left foot,

"I hope he is in the next England squad, for us and for Stewart's sake, because I like it when our players go and play for their country."

Houllier has managed to unite the Villa squad after rumblings of discontent earlier in the season and this was confirmed to the former Liverpool boss on Saturday.

He said: "One of my moments of happiness against Blackburn was when I saw the reaction from the bench when we scored.

"We had some of the senior players on there, yet everyone was happy and wanted to share that positive emotion.

"That's a good sign for the future. It starts from there, the attitude from the players on the bench.

"If they're happy, because they will be involved, I like that."

Houllier understands the diverse reaction of supporters who appeared frustrated in the first half against Rovers but expressed their delight after a sparkling second 45 minutes.

He said: "At Sunderland when we finished losing 1-0 and went down to 10 men, we had fans singing 'you're getting sacked in the morning' but a fortnight later they were singing my name.

"The fans want to see goals so they will be happy after the second half against Blackburn.

"The fans want their team to play well and win games but I think more important was our style of play.

"The first half may have been frustrating for the fans but not for me because I thought we were doing exactly what we wanted to do: passing the ball around and being creative."