By Dan Harrison
Stewart Downing has kicked off his first full pre-season as a Villa player by declaring: "My best is yet to come."
Although the winger signed early last summer, he spent pre-season on crutches as he recovered from a broken foot, which ruled him out until November.
But, this time around, the former Middlesbrough man has been able to get straight into the thick of preparations with his team-mates.
With a proper pre-season under his belt, Downing hopes to be firing on all cylinders when Villa kick off their Barclays Premier League campaign against West Ham on August 14.
Martin O'Neill's team have been back in training since Thursday and Downing is relishing every moment.
"It has been good," he said. "They have been a couple of hard days and we'll start again this week.
"But it is just good to get the start of a good pre-season under my belt because last season I missed six or seven months, including the whole of pre-season.
"It is nice being among the lads from the off. I think it helps to get a pre-season under your belt because if you miss a lot of the football and the running, you are playing catch-up, which I was when I came back.
"But the pleasing thing was I came through the injury and didn't get any setbacks.
"This time I have joined the lads from day one, I'm feeling quite fit and started quite well with the running.
"So I'm quite pleased up until now. Hopefully I'll have a good pre-season, get a few games under my belt and then it is my first full season at Aston Villa, which I am looking forward to.
"This season I will have a full pre-season under my belt and hopefully you will see the best of me in a full season."
Downing began his Villa career with a flourish after making his debut as a substitute in the 1-1 draw at Burnley in November.
The 25-year-old held down a starting spot for the remainder of the season.
It was a big test for Downing, having spent so long on the sidelines, but he says getting so much game time in a winning side was a massive boost.
"The good thing for me was I got loads of games under my belt which was good," he added.
"There were some incredible games all the way to the end, getting to the final and the semi-final. I was in the team and that is what I wanted to do - get fit and get back in the team.
"It was still hard coming back from the injury, but I enjoyed it and it was good. I came back from that and, more or less, went straight into the team.
"The good thing was I was playing in a winning team, which helped a lot."