Captain Jack shows his maturity to brush off invader assault and respond in style to keep Smith’s side on course for late play-off push with winner
By Graham Hill
BIRMINGHAM CITY 0 ASTON VILLA 1
JACK GREALISH is fast becoming Aston Villa’s very own superhero.
Just one question. Who the hell writes his scripts?
A week on from being handed the captain’s armband and scoring one of the goals of the season against Derby, Grealish managed to top all of that.
From being the victim of one of the most disgusting and mindless attacks ever seen on a football field in this country, the Villa skipper bounced back in the most incredible fashion.
The shock of seeing a pitch invader march up to an unsuspecting Grealish and whack him around the head from behind is an image that will live with people for a long time.
And the action that follows against Birmingham City could be a sober reminder that such actions will not be tolerated.
It would have been no surprise if Grealish had reacted – thank God he did not.
And it would have been understandable if he had been taken off – or asked to come off.
Not a bit of it. Grealish carried on playing his normal probing game and created some clear openings.
But the crowning glory came in the second half when he was given an age by Blues on the edge of the area to take the ball on and pick his spot through a crowd of players.
After what had happened earlier, it was sweet revenge for Grealish.
But when you think about it, it almost seemed inevitable that he would bounce back to make the home crowd pay for what had happened.
Grealish must be glad that not every game is as nasty as this one though.
From the third minute it was obvious that Blues wanted to muscle Grealish out of this one.
Makail Kieftenbeld’s early challenge to bring down Grealish earned a yellow card, just as Villa boss Dean Smith predicted it would.
In the end, it was one of Birmingham’s own crowd that went too far in trying to bring the Villa captain’s game to a premature end.
After that, Grealish seemed to positively revel in the fact that he was hated by most of the home crowd.
He strung intricate passes together and refused to hide after what had gone gone.
His goal was his reward. But there was still plenty of work to do.
And, as it was against Derby last week, this was no one man band.
And both subs, John McGinn and Andre Green, provided just the spark Villa needed as they turned the game their way,
And Tyrone Mings was immense in a defence that had to be re-organised after Tommy Elphick was injured last week.
Mings showed just why Smith brought him in on loan from Bournemouth – that is two clean sheets in a row now – and the chances of him staying now depend on Villa going up.
That prospect is still a long way off, Villa remain four points outside the top six and face two of the clubs above them next – Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough.
But if they continue this momentum then the play-offs places are by no means impossible with 10 games left.
Nobody wants to see what happened to Grealish at St Andrew’s, but who knows, that punch might just continue to galvanise this squad into one capable of lining up another Wembley final in May,