Speaking to the club’s official website, Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood has picked out defenders Ciaran Clark and Matthew Lowton as the two star performers since his arrival in the West Midlands last month.
Both made over 20 league appearances each for the since-departed Paul Lambert last season, but a difficult campaign for the pair saw them shunted out to the fringes of the first-team squad at the start of this term.
Clark was fourth-choice centre-back behind Ron Vlaar, Philippe Senderos and Nathan Baker, but injuries to all three in November forced him into action alongside Jores Okore for the 1-1 home draw with Southampton, when he hasn’t looked back since, starting all but two games.
Lowton, meanwhile, made just five league appearance over the first half of the season due to the re-emergence of fellow right-back Alan Hutton, but recent injuries to Aly Cissokho and Kieran Richardson have since seen him start consecutive games on the left-hand side of defence, where his performances have earned him widespread praise.
The former Sheffield United trainee won the last-gasp spot-kick against West Bromwich Albion in midweek for Christian Benteke to slot home for a dramatic 2-1 win, in an encounter in which teammate Clark also recorded a match-leading 17 clearances and 12 won headers.
Sherwood has been more than impressed with their impact during his brief time at the club, and believes both will prove crucial in the bid to avoid the drop and FA Cup ambitions over the final stretch of the season.
On Clark, he said: "His performance was huge the other night. He headed everything back there. He had a magnet on his head.
"It's not easy when your partner keeps changing - we've had injuries there. He's always maintained his consistency. That's important for a defender.
"He's responsible and reliable. He's a good example around the place. He's a good pro and a good trainer."
He added on Lowton: "Matt has ability. He is very calm and very mature for a young boy. He just gets on with his job.
"He is playing out of positon but no-one would guess he's out of position. If he continues to play like he's playing, he will be on the pitch."