AFTER months of concern over his defensive options ahead of the crunch March qualifiers against Sweden and Austria, Giovanni Trapattoni finally has some reasons to be cheerful.
Not only could Richard Dunne return to the fray for Aston Villa against Newcastle United tonight after a seven-month absence, but Sean St Ledger's injury woes appear to be easing after he came through a Leicester City development squad game.
The Italian had very real fears that his first-choice pairing would not be available for the crucial double-header and, while his preferred back four of Dunne, St Ledger, Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson are all unlikely to play against Poland next week, all four could be present and correct when needed.
It remains to be seen whether he will get a full call-up, but Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has revealed that the centre-half could make his return to action against the Magpies if he feels up to it, as the Scot tries to resurrect the Birmingham club's season.
"I will have to go by what Richard feels about the situation. We will have a chat, but you have to remember that he has been out for well over half a year," Lambert said.
"He knows the game inside out and he has had a great career, but you cannot rush anyone who has been out for that length of time. Being out of the side for such a long time has been a nightmare for him with the operations and not getting to the bottom of the problem.
"Just to train and throw him in, it is difficult. When you have missed a few weeks it is difficult to throw someone into the side, let alone half a year. That is a long, long time.
"But we will see how he feels after training. At this minute, he is not feeling too bad."
Lambert's Villa are currently on a woeful run of form that has seen them knocked out of both cups by lower league opposition and drop to 17th position in the Premier League, just above the relegation zone, and they face a vital clash tonight at home to the Magpies.
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder knows that his young side lack leadership and reckons that Dunne is the man who can marshal the porous defence.
"'Dunney' has been around the block and knows the game and exactly what it entails," said Lambert. "Obviously he would be invaluable to the side, particularly with the ball coming into the penalty area and the desire he has to compete. He is also a really good talker and this is invaluable as well. You have to watch his well-being.
"There is no point in asking him to do something that he does not feel comfortable with or if he is still feeling the injury. That is unfair."
The 28-year-old has suffered hamstring problems that have failed to heal and has had to delay a number of comebacks for the Foxes, for whom he has played just seven times this season. Having come through the game and training, the defender is hoping to make his first-team return in the coming weeks. Stephen Ward should be available to face Poland and stake a claim to regain his place from Wilson, despite missing Wolves' defeat to Blackpool last weekend.
The left-back suffered a neck injury in the warm-up, but is likely to return to action against Leicester on Thursday.
Meanwhile, former Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given will remain at Villa Park until the end of the season at least. The Donegal man is out of favour with Lambert, but will not be allowed leave in case first-choice stopper Brad Guzan gets injured.
"There is not a chance of Shay going out," the Scot said. "In the games that Shay has played this season he has been excellent. But to be fair, Brad has been playing ever so well and the club are fortunate to have two great goalkeepers in Shay and Brad."