Conor Hourihane is continuously gaining plaudits for his performances both this season and last, so could he be considered one of the best midfielders in the Sky Bet Championship?
Words by Mark Jirobe (@VillaMarkPGH)
It seems as though Aston Villa supporters are living with the positive side of transition since Steve Bruce was relieved as manager and Dean Smith was introduced. The results are more positive, the football is more positive and the players seem to be in much more positive spirits.
A lot of the cheers and accolades at Aston Villa generally come down to Jack Grealish and Tammy Abraham these days at the Midlands club. Grealish seems to be getting back into the thick of his scintillating form that Villa supporters witnessed last season. Abraham, on loan at Villa from Chelsea, is getting back to his Championship goal scoring form he had two years ago while on loan at Swansea City. Villa are currently on a five game unbeaten run, outscoring their opponents by seventeen goals to seven goals conceded.
Pretty impressive for a club who was looking destined for a mid-table finish under Steve Bruce.
The midfield at Aston Villa has consisted of Jack Grealish, John McGinn, and Conor Hourihane since Dean Smith was appointed to be manager. Hourihane wasn’t consistently in the starting eleven under former Villa manager Steve Bruce at the beginning of the season. Bruce was hellbent on a more defensive set up, generally favouring the Icelandic Birkir Bjarnason over Hourihane for some games. Under new boss Smith, the ‘defense first’ shackles that have weighed Aston Villa down have been removed and it is showing all over the pitch, but it is very notable in the midfield areas.
Players such as Abraham and Grealish are not the only ones who are contributing to the stellar form that Villa find themselves in. The old adage of “it takes a village” holds a surmountable amount of weight and everyone, including 34-year old midfielder Glenn Whelan, are contributing when called upon.
Grealish undoubtedly gets all of the glitz, glamour, press and notice at Aston Villa. There are obviously reasons for that with the skill set he has at his disposal.
Quietly, in the same midfield set-up, Conor Hourihane just very may well be solidifying himself as one of the very best midfielders in the entire Championship.
Hourihane has chipped in to the cause with six assists so far this season. There are only four other midfield players in the whole of the Championship with the same number of assists. The Irishman is on pace to eclipse his 14 assists he had earned in the 2016/2017 season. The two goals he has netted this season were both absolutely beautiful and timely goals from free-kick positions.
Hourihane may not be filling the net, but he is surely contributing by finding his teammates at the right time and usually setting them up for a goal of their own. In the 1,192 minutes Hourihane has played for Aston Villa during the current campaign, he has successfully made 694 passes. That is an 88% success rate of every pass he has made so far. By comparison, Hourihane has played five less games than John McGinn yet McGinn has only made 510 accurate passes. Jack Grealish owns the highest percentage of accurate passes for the Aston Villa midfield at 851, but has the same percentage of success passing the ball as Hourihane at 88%. Hourihane is proving to be efficient, tough on the ball and a menace to play against for whoever the opposing team is. (Statistics via FotMob)
Hourihane is fitting into a slightly different role since Dean Smith took over at Aston Villa. It seems as though Smith is coaching Hourihane on the intricicies of being a pure box-to-box midfielder. Tackling in the centre of the pitch is vital for a box-to-box midfielder, and Hourihane is seeing improvements in that area so far this season with a 67% tackle success rate. Under the previous managerial staff and tactic, Hourihane would seem to be instructed to run with the ball in the middle of the pitch, which sometimes saw him turn the ball over in an unforgiving position. Over the past five games, Hourihane can be seen being a bit more patient with the ball at his feet. He has great outlets at his disposal with the likes of Grealish, McGinn, Bolassie, Adomah, Abraham and Kodjia. No matter where Hourihane finds himself on the field, he is getting his head up and looking around to find the more attack-minded and individually talented of his teammates to press on to the final third.
There is a very real claim for Hourihane to be regarded as one of the best midfielders in the Championship. There will be other players in the Aston Villa starting eleven that may snag the headlines, but Villa supporters would be wise to start taking notice of just how impressive and vital Hourihane is to the football that is being played at the current time.