By Graham Hill
DEAN Smith reflected on the game that earned promotion and said: It feels right that Villa are back in the Premier League.
Villa’s 2-1 win over Derby County at Wembley ended a three-year exile in the Championship and means they will be playing top flight football next season.
It has been an incredible three months with Villa hauling themselves out of mid-table obscurity to sealing a top six place with two games left – then going all the way to make sure of promotion.
A 10 match winning run – now the club record in League football – made them clear favourites.
But Villa’s return to the elite was not certain until the final whistle blew at Wembley.
The impressive Anwar El Ghazi’s head put Villa ahead before player of the year John McGinn added a second when he made the most of a mistake by Rams keeper Kelle Roos.
Martyn Waghorn flicked in a Jack Marriott shot to make it a nervy finish for Villa.
But Smith’s men saw the game out to the delight of Villa’s travelling faithful – and Prince William who watched the game with ex-Villa striker John Carew.
Smith told reporters afterwards: “It feels right that Villa are in the Premier League, the history and the size of the club, the fans it has – I believe it is a Premier League club and that’s not me being a supporter.
“But we’ve done some hard years trying to get back into the Premier League.
“We’ve fallen on hard times. Last season was very tough for everyone who went through defeat here against Fulham. They asked me to take on the job, it was two of Steve Bruce’s signings who scored the winning goals, so every credit to him.
“But we work very hard every day and the potential with the owners that we have is massive.”
Smith praised the work put in by Jack Grealish since recovering from injury in March and being handed the captaincy.
The Villa boss added: “I’ve got a special connection with the lad, he’s a Villa fan, he’s been through a lot in his career so far.
“A lot of people’s perceptions of him are him lying in a road when he was 17 or 18. He was thrust into the limelight as a young kid, but, boy, the kid has matured. I had no qualms giving him the captaincy.”