Wary Smith knows boyhood fan Joe is capable of rivaling Grealish for Forest when it comes to being a Championship game changer
By Graham Hill
TONIGHT’S clash at Nottingham Forest has all the hallmarks of being another thriller.
But will the final result be 5-5 again? I somehow doubt it – but it would be interesting to see the bookies’ odds on that outcome.
Anyone who was at Villa Park for the Forest game earlier this season probably still cannot believe the way that game panned out.
Two-nil down in the opening minutes only for Villa to peg Forest back to 2-2; and then the goals came thick and fast.
Villa thought they had won it at 5-4 only for Lewis Grabban to pop up and grab an equaliser.
Even then, Villa had two goals disallowed and, on closer inspection, they probably should have won it.
After the game, even boss Dean Smith was too dazed to moan about what might have been.
Ex-Forest manager Aitor Karanka also seemed shellshocked and happy just to escape with a freakish point.
It was also the night Tammy Abraham scored four goals and still did not end up on the winning side.
Grabban is unlikely to play tonight so there is little chance of him coming back to haunt his former club after last season’s loan spell at Villa Park.
But there is one Villa connection Smith needs to worry about.
What did go under the radar that night was boyhood Villa fan Joe Lolley’s display.
He scored a wonder goal for Forest and assisted in the other four goals.
On any other night, that would have earned the headlines, but that was no ordinary match.
It was a performance that certainly alerted Lolley who made a move to try and sign him during the January window.
The move was rejected, particularly as new boss Martin O’Neill sees Lolley was one of his key men.
A new contract for the Redditch-born former Kidderminster Harriers forward was soon on the table and signed.
It looks like Smith can forget about taking Lolley back across to the West Midlands any time soon.
And while Lolley may have grown up supporting Villa, his allegiances will go out of the window tonight.
If anything, he may even step it up a notch and Smith will have identified him as one of Forest’s major threats at the City Ground.
Lolley has scored nine times for Forest this season and was on target in the 3-0 win over Hull on Saturday.
He could have just as much influence as Jack Grealish on the game.
You might also wonder how O’Neill feels about Villa now.
His decision to walk out on the club in 2010 was all about his fall out with the then owner Randy Lerner.
Things have changed greatly since then of course. The Villa of nine years ago would be unrecognisable to the Irishman.
Villa fans may not be so diplomatic. The club never recovered from O’Neill’s exit and now find themselves in the Championship after years of chaos behind the scenes.
O’Neill has not dwelled on his years at Villa in the build up to this game.But it gives tonight’s clash another edge – aside from the fact that both clubs are desperate to clinch a play-off place.
It will also be interesting to see how Grealish has responded to the unwanted publicity following Sunday’s attack by a pitch invader at Blues.
Clearly, it did not affect him on the day as he scored the only goal of the game.
But Villa will have been monitoring him over the past 72 hours for any after-effects.
At the moment though, nothing seems to faze the Villa skipper and another outstanding display could take Dean Smith’s side another step towards the top six.