By Ed Leahy
Enda Stevens' run in the Aston Villa first team has come to an end ahead of this weekend’s league clash with QPR.
The former Shamrock Rovers defender started the last four league games for Villa but Stevens picked up an ankle injury in their midweek clash with Reading.
That rules Stevens out of this weekend’s fixture and the former Ireland Under-21 international is also set to be ruled out of action for the next few weeks.
Stevens encountered a baptism-of-fire start to his league career with the English Premier League club as he made his first top-flight start against Manchester United three weeks ago.
Villa took a two-goal lead in that game with Stevens impressing marking Ecuador international Antonio Valencia, however, United staged a remarkable fightback to win 3-2.
"Being on the pitch for Aston Villa against Manchester United in front of a 40,000 crowd was amazing." - Stevens
That was followed up by a trip to league champions Manchester City, where Villa were up against it from the beginning and eventually crashed to a 5-0 defeat, thanks in part to two dubious penalty decisions awarded to the home team.
Arsenal were next in line as Stevens made his third consecutive start for Paul Lambert’s side and it was another solid performance from the former Hoop as he kept England international Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain quiet as the Villa defence enjoyed a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw.
Stevens’ fourth league game in a row for Villa ended prematurely as he picked up the ankle injury on Tuesday night at home to fellow strugglers Reading and was replaced by Eric Lichaj midway through the first half.
And despite the injury, the young Dubliner is happy with how things are going in his first full season with Villa.
Speaking in an interview with the Aston Villa match-day programme, Stevens said: "It was more excitement than nerves when I knew I would be facing Manchester United. Being on the pitch for Aston Villa against Manchester United in front of a 40,000 crowd was amazing.
"But I feel ready to play against any team because I've improved massively since I came here. That's down to training every day with Premier League players.
"To me, every game is a big game. It's obviously a lot tougher at this level because the game is quicker and you have to stay focused for 90 minutes."
Stevens joined Villa on the back of some very impressive performances for Shamrock Rovers as the Dublin club won back-to-back league titles and enjoyed unprecedented success qualifying for the Europa League group stages after beating Partizan Belgrade over two legs.
And the defender believes that the Europa experience proved valuable ahead of joining Villa.
Stevens said: "At Shamrock (Rovers) I played against some big clubs including Juventus, Tottenham and PAOK of Greece. Playing against opposition like that has helped me massively because I knew what I was up against when I came here."
When Stevens returns from injury he will again face stiff competition for his place as he competes with Joe Bennett, Eric Lichaj and Nathan Baker for the left-back slot.
But that will not faze the former UCD and St Pat’s defender who believes the competition improves him as a player.
Stevens added: "Competition brings the best out in everyone. We don't dislike each other. We all get on and there's a great spirit in the dressing room. That's going to help us massively in the coming months. We thrive on competition. We're a team and we help each other through.
"I want to perform to the best of my ability and play as many games as possible for Aston Villa."