By Dan Harrison
Alex McLeish believes Nathan Baker has what it takes to become a first team regular after being encouraged by the defender's performances in recent weeks.
Baker has stepped up to the plate to partner James Collins at centre-back following injuries to Carlos Cuellar, Richard Dunne and Ciaran Clark.
And McLeish reckons the 20-year-old from Worcester has a good chance of staking a claim next term.
But the Villa boss has challenged Baker to show his "ugly" side as he strives to become a top stopper.
"You look at him and he could be a male model, but he's got to be an ugly centre half for us," he said.
"I think he's coped and gone in there with the big guys against Chelsea and Man United and coped pretty well and come through it.
"He's had a big introduction, just like a lot of the young players, and I think he's done well.
"He's got to see his recent introduction as a real chance for him and playing regularly has got to be an ambition and a goal for him.
"If I thought he was too laid back and he wasn't really bothered then I'd be worried.
"But I'd like to think that he's targeting that position to be his own and why not because that creates healthy competition."
McLeish has been particularly impressed with Baker's positioning and predicts a bright future for the England U21 international if he learns from his mistakes.
"He's still got one or two things that will occur and he's got to learn quickly from those," he added.
"The good thing about him is his positioning has been good for a young lad.
"A lot of times you see centre halves and they go and block things and do last gasp stuff and that's more maybe being out of position.
"Whereas I think his positioning has been really good.
"He's dovetailed really well with James Collins and the fullbacks when need be.
"I've been pleased with his progress this season.
"I've seen a big improvement since the start of the season and his spell with Millwall."
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