By Kevin Phillips

18th Feb, 2020 | 7:11pm

Exclusive: Kevin Phillips baffled by Smith's 'Very Strange' handling of Villa ace he knows well

Kevin Phillips has claimed Dean Smith’s decision to hand Danny Drinkwater his debut for Aston Villa against Manchester City last month was “very strange”.

The former Sunderland striker, speaking exclusively to Football Insider correspondent Dylan Childs, suggests the 29-year-old has endured a “tough” start at Villa Park which has not been helped by the crowd or manager.

Drinkwater joined in January after spending the first half of the season at Burnley and was thrown straight into the lineup to face Manchester City – a game that finished 6-1 to the league champions.

Phillips suggested the tough start to life in the West-Midlands for the former Leicester City man has not helped the player settle quickly.

“It has been tough,” Phillips told Football Insider“I felt like the crowd were getting on his back early doors.

“I thought it was very strange when he got chucked in for his first game against Manchester City because he has not played consistently for a long time.

Subscribe to Football Insider TV now

“I know Danny well, I have coached him and played with him and we all forget it was only two or three years ago he was an England international.

“He just looks rusty but there is a player in there.

“Unfortunately, it is going to get highlighted more because of where Villa are in the league.

“There is more to come from him but Danny is going to have to step up to the plate pretty quick. You can tell by his body language he is disappointed but knowing the kid he will be working hard.”

The central midfielder started in Villa’s 3-2 home loss to Spurs at the weekend, his fourth start since joining the club.

Drinkwater was a key part of the miraculous Leicester side that lifted the Premier League title back in 2016 under Claudio Ranieri.

In other Aston Villa news, Noel Whelan told Football Insider experienced player will be raging with teammates after loss.