Villans ascend into EPL heaven

Coach Smith guides team past Lampard's Derby to make up for last year's near miss

Aston Villa's John McGinn celebrates scoring their second goal that proved to be the difference in the Championship play-off final against Derby.
Aston Villa's John McGinn celebrates scoring their second goal that proved to be the difference in the Championship play-off final against Derby.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Aston Villa are back in the big time, £170 million (S$296.8 million) richer and free from the demons that have tormented them since they lost in the play-off final 12 months ago.

After three roller-coaster years in the Championship, the Villans returned to the Premier League after beating Derby 2-1 yesterday and how fitting that Dean Smith, a lifelong supporter, was there at the helm to complete that journey.

There were wild scenes at the end, in the stands and on the Wembley pitch, as Prince William and former club striker John Carew jumped all over one another, while captain Jack Grealish and his teammates celebrated in front of the Villa supporters.

Villa, in truth, handled the occasion far better than Derby and put themselves in a commanding position when John McGinn, capitalising on an error from Derby goalkeeper Kelle Roos, doubled their lead after Anwar El Ghazi had scored just before half-time.

The Rams played within themselves for too long and it was not until the final 20 minutes that Frank Lampard's team started to attack with any real conviction.

Martyn Waghorn's goal, nine minutes from time, gave Derby some late hope, but it was no more than that and Villa showed plenty of grit and resilience to hold on.

Villa captain Grealish told Sky Sports: "I'm speechless. It was such a hard game going up against a great team. We knew it was hard and it would go down to the wire.

"Like I said in my last 10 interviews, when I look around and I've McGinn, Tammy (Abraham) and Anwar, I feel like we can beat anyone. I can't describe how happy I am. We all know where this club belongs. I've stayed here, we've worked hard and we're finally here now."

With so much at stake, it was perhaps not surprising that the game took a while to come alive.

With tension filling the air, it was scrappy at times and hard to see where a goal was coming from until El Ghazi's breakthrough.

If there was an element of good fortune about the way the ball ended up in the back of the net, the passage of play leading up to the goal was by far the best move of the first half.

Albert Adomah cut the ball back to Ahmed Elmohamady, who curled a cross into the box, over the head of Richard Keogh, and El Ghazi threw himself at a ball that went in off his shoulder.

His goal seemed to liberate Villa, whose positive start to the second half was rewarded with another goal just before the hour mark.

From Derby's point of view, it was a dreadful goal to concede and questions will be asked as to how Roos allowed McGinn to get to a high ball ahead of him.

Frank Lampard's men were roused after Jack Marriott drilled a low shot that flicked off Waghorn, another substitute, past Jed Steer in goal. Villa, though, were not going to relinquish their grip on a game that had slipped through their hands a year ago.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2019, with the headline 'Villans ascend into EPL heaven'. Print Edition | Subscribe