Aston Villa manager Dean Smith paid tribute to John McGinn after the midfielder’s brace sparked a vital 3-1 win at Nottingham Forest.
McGinn scored twice in the space of eight first-half minutes that turned the game on its head after Jack Colback had given the home side the lead after only three minutes.
With Villa moving to within two points of sixth-placed Derby – after Kortney Hause wrapped up the victory with a close-range finish in the 61st minute – boss Smith said McGinn personified everything that is good about his side.
“I brought him back into the team, which was a tough decision, because Glenn Whelan has been playing well,” said Smith.
“But John did very well, scoring two great goals for us. He does well for us – but you would not have said that against Derby County a few weeks ago!
“Seriously, he has been our most consistent performer; he is a terrific player and he nearly got himself a hat-trick.
“He epitomises what we are about. He is a hard-working lad, a real team player. The lads in the dressing room love him and he got his rewards tonight for his hard work.”
Villa, who have now won their last three matches, generally controlled the game against a Forest side who had previously been in great form at home.
“It was a very professional performance,” added Smith. “They had a bit of fortune for their goal – which looked like a cross that had gone in – but our response was terrific.
“We kept them at arm’s length, and they are a side with good players. They had won four games on the spin here.”
Despite defeat Forest only remain three points shy of the top six, ahead of a weekend trip to bottom-club Ipswich.
Boss Martin O’Neill remains bullish, insisting: “We are very much still in the hunt. We have to go and win on Saturday, in what is a big game for us.
“But tonight we will lick our wounds and get on with it.
“We got off to a great start but we were not in front for long enough.
“It was not the best goal in the world for us to concede and it gave Villa momentum, which they kept going by getting a second one.
“We thought we had equalised when (Yohan) Benalouane was adjudged to have fouled. Perhaps he did.
“The goal would have been great for us. If we had got back to 2-2 I think the crowd would have got right behind us and it might have made a difference.
“But in the aftermath of all this, we cannot forget that Villa are a very good side and perhaps they themselves will want to know why they are in the position they are in, rather than being in the top two.”