Match: Aston Villa v Derby County
Date: Saturday 2nd March 2019
Competition: Sky Bet Championship
Venue: Villa Park
Hourihane 9, 44, Abraham 37, Grealish 45
Steer; Hutton, Elmohamady, Elphick (Taylor 67), Mings, Hause; Whelan, Hourihane, Grealish; Adomah, Abraham, El Ghazi (Green 80). UNUSED SUBS: Kalinic, Jedinak, Bjarnason, Kodjia.
Story in brief
Villa returned to winning ways in spectacular fashion as they demolished play-off contenders Derby County.
Dean Smith’s men totally dominated the opening period to have the match all-but won by half-time before cruising through the second half.
Conor Hourihane scored twice, Tammy Abraham netted his 21st goal of the season and – best of all – comeback kid Jack Grealish celebrated his return from injury with a brilliant volley.
Hourihane had already been close before opening the scoring, his close-range shot deflecting for a corner following Kortney Hause’s superb pass and Anwar El Ghazi’s low cross from the left.
The midfielder left nothing to chance, though, when he stroked the ball home in the ninth minute after Grealish’s through ball had set up Abraham for a flick which was pushed aside by former Villa keeper Scott Carson.
Villa’s second was even better, Abraham stretching to divert Ahmed Elmohamady’s low cross from six yards after Hourihane had opened up the Rams defence with a magnificent diagonal pass.
Hourihane tapped in his second a minute before half-time when Abraham unselfishly laid the ball off to him, and Villa Park simply erupted in first-half stoppage time.
Glenn Whelan, superb all game, delivered a corner from the left and Grealish, lurking on the edge of the penalty area, unleashed the sweetest of sweet volleys into the top corner.
Villa understandably eased off in the second half but even then, Grealish, Abraham and El Ghazi were close to increasing the lead.
One player doesn’t make a team but there’s no denying the fact that Villa have struggled during Jack Grealish’s lengthy absence with a shin injury.
But the spark was back as the classy forward returned to the starting line-up proudly wearing the captain’s armband for the first time.
His sheer presence inspired Villa to their best 45 minutes of the season.
Quite apart from the quality pass which led to the second goal and his own incredible volley, he delighted the claret-and-blue faithful with the wondrous footwork which has become his trademark in a Villa shirt.
As always, Grealish was subjected to some crude challenges, and Villa Park held its collective breath when he stayed down after being clattered by Derby skipper Richard Keogh in the 17th minute.
But he gradually ran off the injury and continued to torment the Derby defence until going off to a standing ovation 20 minutes from the end.
Kortney Hause has improved rapidly since his faltering start to life as a Villa player, and this was his best performance so far.
Apart from his steady assurance at the back, the on-loan Wolves defender constantly got forward down the left to pose questions to the visitors back four.
And he was equally effective in central defence after Tommy Elphick was carried off on a stretcher in the 67th minute.
It’s a busy month at Villa Park, with two more home games against Middlesbrough and Blackburn coming up before the end of March.
First, though, there’s the small matter of the Second City derby against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s next Sunday.
Villa haven’t lost a league match to the old enemy in the last 14 meetings, a run stretching back to October 2005.
Dean Smith and his players will be anxious to extend that unbeaten run next weekend.