By Dan Harrison
Alex McLeish reckons Villa are close to seeing the very best of Alan Hutton despite the full-back's red card disappointment against Arsenal.
A fine attacking display from Hutton in Wednesday's 2-1 defeat to the Gunners was soured when the Scotsman saw red for two late bookings.
While McLeish concedes the dismissal could have been avoided, he felt it overshadowed a fine individual display from the 27-year-old.
The Villa boss will now be without Hutton for the Boxing Day clash at Stoke City.
And he admits the one-match ban is bad timing after the impressive strides the former Tottenham and Rangers defender has made in the past couple of games.
"I thought he was great on Wednesday night," said McLeish. "He was terrific, really great.
"Although it didn't cost us the game it was a shame to see him get sent off after such a good performance.
"Alan was conned and he should be experienced enough to just laugh in their face and just walk away.
"But he is in really good form. He matched Craig Bellamy against Liverpool the other day. He was even caught the wrong side of Bellamy a couple of times and got back at him.
"He strides forward and he produced some phenomenal performances in Scotland's European Championship run.
"He was outstanding against the Italians and the French and you saw some of the runs forward he made against Arsenal on Wednesday night.
"He has got great recovery pace and he has great presence."
McLeish has called for greater discipline from his squad, insisting suspensions could prove costly to Villa's campaign.
A crackdown on "silly" bookings is high on the agenda for the claret and blues chief.
"I cannot afford to lose my experienced players this season," he added.
"I speak about discipline every week in my team talk.
"Don't waste energy on the referee, don't waste energy fighting opponents.
"Save it for the game and defending the ball. Alan Hutton's suspension has been a blow.
"We've got Carlos who can play the full-back position while James Collins can come back in so that is the way we are going to go."
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