Away to Derby County, Aston Villa went up a notch of progress in terms of Dean Smith’s transitioning of the team. Both the players and supporters now have a clearer picture of what is possible and what the aim is.

It’s a bit of a strange one to give individual ratings below, as this match was about the team performance, which was the best we’ve seen for a long time. When you look at the touch counts of players compared to other games, it was a lot more spread across all the players in this game, which was symbolic of the collective effort on show.

MOMS has previously mentioned the tough run of games up until Christmas, which looked daunting through eyes that had become tired and short-sighted under Bruce-bred conservatism, but now through Smith’s new vision, the games look like a grand opportunity to impress.

“I said today was an opportunity to draw a line in the sand about what we can be and they’ve certainly done that, but their standards are up there now and that’s where we want them to stay,” Smith told WM Radio after the Derby match.

“It gives everybody a boost. I said I wanted a team that was hungry and showed desire to go and create chances and we did that.”

Villa created chance after chance (21 shots by the end of the game) and even on the 70-minute mark with the score at 0-0, MOMS felt satisfied the team had turned the corner this season. They could have already been three or four to the good.

With the late salvo of goals, Smith got the result to reflect the performance, which in the second half mesmerised Frank Lampard’s Derby team.

In the end, even more exciting than the score against an in-form Derby team was the spotlight that it shone on the potential of this Villa team.

The next few months could get very interesting indeed.

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Aston Villa Player Ratings

Orjan Nyland – 7

All good in the hood. Made a couple of smart saves. A composed looking back four certainly helped him. He was sharp-minded in terms of his distribution, which was good to see and could be key moving forward.

Alan Hutton – 7.5

Certainly had a keenness to go forward and contributed well with a more considered approach than before. I had considered him a potential weak-link in terms of the kind of football Smith wanted to play, but he didn’t let Villa down in that respect against Derby.

Neil Taylor – 7

Was doing ok, but was subbed at half-time after picking up a knock shortly before the sides went in.

James Chester – 7.5

Another game, another goaline clearance, although not as acrobatic as the one against Bolton. Decent enough display, was certainly more comfortable in the second half, after some tricky moments throughout the first.

Axel Tuanzebe – 8

I described him as a ‘smooth operator’ last week and so kept more of an eye on him in this game. He looks good, especially on the ball and his distribution was decent. Tuanzebe certainly looks a much better centre back than he does a right-back. It’s very encouraging. What was Bruce thinking?

Conor Hourihane – 8

If you listen to the fountain of all knowledge that is the MOMS Podcast, you’d have heard me talking weeks ago about the idea of dropping the defensive DM favoured by Bruce, to instead play a deep-lying midfielder to be more progressive in getting Villa going forward and pivoting the start of their attacking play…

Hey presto, it seems Dean Smith was listening! And it looks like Hourihane could fast become that man. He capped off a decent display with a great free kick.

Jack Grealish – 8

Interestingly had half the touches (50) that he did in the QPR game, but seemed a lot more fluid and decisive. No wasted touches dribbling into traffic. He used the ball well (96.9% pass completion) and managed to escape the game without picking up a yellow that would have seen him suspended for the Blues game.

John McGinn – 9 MOTM

As always, a 10/10 for effort and tenacity. He was relentless and was key to the swing of the game in the second half. Fittingly it was McGinn that broke the deadlock with a header, but that was just the icing on the cake in terms of his immense performance.

Jonathan Kodjia – 6

I’m still not completely convinced by Kodjia’s role in the team, above giving the opposition something to think about. His poor shooting was wasteful at times.

Tammy Abraham – 7.5

In the first half struggled against the impressive Tomori and was guilty of spurning chances again – eight shots, two on target.  Still, he kept battling away for the team and helped keep the ball in Derby’s half, and got his reward in the end with Villa’s second goal.

Albert Adomah  7

Played his part switching wings and giving Derby something to think about down the flanks. Hasn’t quite clicked into gear yet though.

Off The Bench

El Mohamady (45) – 7.5

He wasn’t expected to be an impact sub when he came on at half-time, but he proved to be just that. Helped increase Villa’s threat from the wings in one of his best performances for Villa.

Yannick Bolasie (69) – 7.5

Speaking of impact subs, an assist for Bolasie to add to his couple of goals coming on as a sub. Yet again Bolasie hinted at what is to come when he gets back to top fitness and actually starts. At the moment, he serves as Villa’s late show weapon. All three goals came once he was on the pitch.

Scott Hogan (87) – N/A

Scott Hogan Touch Count Meter™ – 1

Manager Rating – 9

Smith’s big decision was continuing with Hourihane as that deep lying midfielder, rather than playing safety first away from home with a more conventional defensive DM. It was finally good to see a Villa manager realising the potential of the players he’s got and thinking, ‘let us dictate the game, the way we want’.

This positivity in approach was a bold step, but fortune favours the brave, as the saying goes.

Villa yet again had more possession (53%) than the home team and once they got up a head of steam up in the second half, dominated proceedings. It could have easily have been five or six, if the finishing was sharper.

Despite some early misplaced passes as Villa attempted to play it out of the back, the back four and Hourihane soon settled down and were constructive with the ball, which will certainly please Smith.

The thing that may please the Villa Head Coach the most though, was there was clearly even more room for improvement. If they can get some momentum going with results, then anything is still possible this season.

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