Aston Villa 2-1 Derby County Six Things: Villans victorious

Anwar El Ghazi heads home the opener – @SkyFootball

Aston Villa are back in the Premier League after a three-year absence, as goals from Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn gave them a 2-0 win over Derby County in the Championship Play-Off Final. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Smith’s side start strongly

Aston Villa assumed the territorial advantages from the off with Jack Grealish and John McGinn pressing well into the final third; the latter’s improvised flick following a poor clearance from Kelle Roos presented Grealish with the game’s first big chance, but he fired over. In last season’s Play-Off Final, it felt like Grealish was the one carrying Villa whereas this year it was him and McGinn hassling and creating – plus Hourihane threading balls through deep – which made it much harder for the opposition to keep a lid on things centrally. Tammy Abraham, who intimidated Keogh with his athleticism, gave himself space following a first-time pass from Hourihane, but could not quite find the target from the edge of the box just after the half-hour mark.

Disjointed Derby

Although Derby tried to force their way through out of trouble, they relied on individual charges from Tom Lawrence, Mason Bennett and Mason Mount rather than a more coherent pressing setup. They had similar issues in possession; Ashley Cole did not have the pace to overlap, so when Tom Lawrence cut inside as he naturally likes to, he moved into areas that were congested and struggled to unlock Villa, as did the off-colour Harry Wilson, with Mount – who delivered the only first half shot on target with a drive straight at Jed Steer – perhaps their brightest spark. Derby’s rear-guard structure was perhaps skewed too far in favour of experience; although Keogh and Cole were both likely to start for different reasons, Huddlestone was guilty of backing off the likes of Grealish and McGinn at times while slowing the play down when he was on the ball himself.

Rams’ costly errors

After Bradley Johnson’s slip allowed Hourihane to play Adomah out wide, Elmohamady produced a pin-point first-time delivery for Anwar El Ghazi to spark jubilant scenes by nodding home at the back-post. Anwar El Ghazi’s shot was blocked, causing the ball to loop up and the erratic Kelle Roos misjudged the flight of the ball; McGinn’s pressure saw it spin into an empty net, as the sense of jubilation among Villans began.

Derby’s brief riposte

Derby had looked short of the focal point striker Martyn Waghorn might have provided for much of the contest, with neither Tom Lawrence nor Mason Bennett adjusting from their usual roles as nippy wide forwards to become the focal point required. The second half substitutions though made a difference: Waghorn occupied centre-backs, fellow striker Marriott offered pace and tenacity while winger Florian Jozefzoon took on opponents as soon as he came on. After snapshots from Wilson and Marriott flew off-target, the latter fired home to bring Derby back into the contest, but they never really built on that goal and can have no complaints about the result.

Bigger picture for Derby

This defeat does not detract from the fact this has been a positive season for Derby, who have made progress in plenty of ways: cultivating a more attractive style of football whilst reducing the squad’s average age. Frank Lampard deserves immense credit for overseeing those changes in his debut season in management whilst also attaining positive results. Still, though, there are alterations to be made in terms of ensuring the correct personnel are in place to execute Lampard’s methods as effectively as possible. With one or two tweaks, the Rams can look to the future with pride and hope.

Villa are back

It has been a near-perfect 12 months for Aston Villa. After the Fulham defeat this time last year, there were severe financial problems at the club, not to mention a side arguably mismanaged by Steve Bruce and carried by Grealish individualism. In that time, all of those problems have been eradicated with new ownership, a change of structure, a progressive manager in Dean Smith and a more coherent playing identity. Some changes will be required going into the Premier League, but the club that sees itself among the top-10 in England is back on the up.