Match: Walsall v Villa
Date: Tuesday 17th July 2018
Venue: Banks's Stadium
Hourihane (3), Whelan
Steer, Hutton, Elphick, Chester (Green 63), Taylor (Bree 63), Whelan (Gardner 70), Hourihane (Adomah 63), Lansbury, De Laet (Clark 70), Grealish (Knibbs 70), Kodjia (Davis 63). SUBS NOT USED: Bunn.
Villa strode to victory in their third pre-season outing at Walsall as Conor Hourihane stole the headlines with a hat-trick display.
The Irish midfielder opened the scoring inside five minutes with a deflected shot, before sweeping home a left-footed effort to double our lead later in the half.
Countryman Glenn Whelan made it three when beating his man and drilling low into the bottom-left corner.
Hourihane then wrapped up his hat-trick and grabbed his fourth pre-season goal when diverting Henri Lansbury's shot into the net.
New season, new system?
There was a noticeable experiment of shape at Banks's Stadium on Tuesday evening, as Villa employed three centre-halves between two wing-backs.
James Chester, Tommy Elphick and Alan Hutton made up those central roles while Ritchie De Laet and Neil Taylor were pinned out wide on the right and left respectively.
They all operated around a central midfield trio of Hourihane, Whelan and Lansbury, with Jack Grealish and Jonathan Kodjia further up field.
De Laet shone again when pushing further forward, providing his third assist in two matches after setting up Kodjia twice at Telford. This time, he had a hand in Hourihane's opener.
Could the formation be a sign of things to come for this season? Our next friendly at Burton Albion on Saturday could provide further clues.
Hourihane on fire
He netted 11 times in total last term and confirmed to us at pre-season camp that he'd be looking for more this time around.
Hourihane has certainly started as he means to go on, adding a hat-trick to his solitary strike at Telford last weekend to make it four goals in two matches.
Having limped away from Wembley injured just seven-and-a-half weeks ago, he looks as fresh as ever right now – popping up all around the opposition penalty area and linking attacking play.
He's certainly staking his claim to start the campaign at the heart of that midfield once again.
Two games in a day
Full-back Mitch Clark was part of the U23 side that played a friendly against Coventry City earlier on Tuesday.
He later travelled and warmed up with the rest of the Villa first-team squad before the Walsall game and at half-time – presumably to get more experience in and around the team.
And Clark wasn't even among the substitutes on the teamsheet originally, but found himself on the pitch for the last 20 minutes of the match when he replaced De Laet.
Bruce, keen to take a look at him again, thrust him into action in the closing stages – capping a busy day for the 19-year old.
We now go to Burton Albion on Saturday before facing West Ham United back at Banks's Stadium next Wednesday.
Then it's German side Dynamo Dresden in our last pre-season game before we visit Hull City in our opening Championship game two weeks on Monday.
You can re-watch the 4-1 win at Walsall below.