Aston Villa must unleash £30k-p/w outcast, may be Dean Smith’s game-changer on Monday – opinion

When Ross Barkley was forced off in the opening minutes of Aston Villa’s defeat to Brighton, Dean Smith would no doubt have been watching on with a rueful look on his face.

The club’s loan arrival from Chelsea had taken to Villa like a duck to water, fitting in seamlessly with Jack Grealish and becoming a part of the creative hub in that attacking midfield role – he’d featured in every single Premier League game bar one.

But when one door closes, another door opens. And that could prove to be the case for Conor Hourihane.

The Republic of Ireland international has been the man to lose out the most since Barkley’s arrival, making just four appearances in total, with only 154 minutes of Premier League soccer under his belt.

And speaking in his pre-match press conference ahead of the game against West Ham on Monday night, Smith was quick to acknowledge that it’s been difficult for Hourihane. He said: “Conversations can be difficult but if you’re just speaking to the players with honesty then you usually find a way through that.

“We’d played two, won two and Conor had come off in both games. We signed Ross and I felt we needed to go a different way against Liverpool given who we were playing against. I explained that to Conor and, yes, he was disappointed because he had been involved in the first two games but we felt we’d brought in a real, high-calibre, different type of player.”

But with Villa set to be without Barkley against the Hammers, Hourihane is surely one of the players who could fill that creative void.

Speaking earlier in the summer, Villa journalist Dan Bardell waxed lyrical about the Irishman’s ability following an impressive performance in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, and insisted sometimes he just doesn’t get enough credit.

He said: “Whether you rate Conor (Hourihane) or whether you don’t, and obviously we’re two people that rate him highly, you can’t deny that when he’s on the pitch, we’ve looked better this season. And he’s a weapon from set pieces.

“The way he looks after the ball is very underrated as well. I think a lot of people take that for granted. And he also allows Jack (Grealish) to have more freedom to come inside on the left, because Conor will quite often go on the overlap.”

The £30k-a-week ace just needs a chance to shine.

The post Aston Villa must unleash Conor Hourihane against West Ham first appeared on