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'We’ve got quality like Conor coming off the bench. He speaks for himself with his goal'

Conor Hourihane and Jack Grealish were instrumental as Aston Villa came from behind to beat West Brom.

The Cork midfielder scored a sublime long-range strike on Saturday.
The Cork midfielder scored a sublime long-range strike on Saturday.
Image: Bradley Collyer

CONOR HOURIHANE HAS received a host of plaudits after the Ireland midfielder’s brilliant long-range effort helped inspire Aston Villa to a 2-1 victory over West Brom on Saturday in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final.

A goal down at home with just 15 minutes left on the clock, Hourihane’s introduction off the bench was the catalyst as Villa firstly levelled proceedings, before Tammy Abraham snached victory from the claws of defeat from the penalty spot.

Glenn Whelan’s unfortunate lapse in concentration at the back allowed Dwight Gayle in to open the scoring for the Baggies at Villa Park. Substituted on for his Ireland team-mate in the second half, Hourihane scored just eight minutes after taking to the field.

He took possession from Jack Grealish on the edge of the box, before slamming a precise effort flying beyond the fingertips of goalkeeper Sam Johnstone. With it, the Bandon native now has seven goals and eleven assists to his name this season.

“When we’ve got quality like Conor coming off the bench… you know, he speaks for himself with his goal,” Grealish smiled speaking to Sky Sports after full-time at Villa Park, as his side take a crucial one-goal lead into Tuesday’s second leg.

Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Play-off - Semi Final - First Leg - Villa Park Hourihane has seven goals and 11 assists in the Championship this season for Aston Villa. Source: Martin Rickett

“Like I’ve said in a few interviews before — and I said it the other day to the manager, every time we come onto the pitch — I look at the players around me and I just think we’re going to win. Even if we go a goal down or a man down, I always think we’re going to win.”

Aston Villa are hoping the nature of Saturday’s dramatic turnaround — resurrecting from behind with just 15 minutes left on the clock to claiming an important win when the chips were down — will help them in their quest to return to the Premier League.

“Yeah I suppose you could say that,” Hourihane replied when asked if his and Andre Green’s introductions off the bench was an inspired decision by manager Dean Smith in the second half.

“It obviously wasn’t going for us a little bit before we came on. Myself and Greeney maybe added a bit of energy or whatever but there’s still another game to go, so we’ll have to get ready to go.”

Grealish was named man-of-the-match after another instrumental display, with Hourihane heaping praise on his team-mate after today’s victory.

“Listen, Jack’s the best player in the league in my opinion,” he said. “He’s got so much quality, he’s probably too good for the league. He does it every week for us and he’s fantastic.”

Grealish reflected on last year’s play-off semi-final victory against Middlesborough when assessing the task ahead of Villa to try and see the job through come Tuesday night in the second leg against the Baggies.

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“It’s like last year, we won at Middlesborough and then we came back here and we had a tough game,” Grealish said.

“West Brom are a great side and we know when we go to the Hawthons on Tuesday night it’s going to be a hostile atmosphere, it’s going to be a tough game.

“But like I said, I look at the players around me and I feel like we can go out and win every game. So hopefully we can do that and get ourselves back to Wembley.”

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Aaron Gallagher

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