Aston Villa’s fanbase has been lifted by the news that Jack Grealish is fit enough to return against Derby County this weekend.
Dean Smith’s side have missed the craft of the 23-year-old, there’s little doubt about that.
In the nine fixtures between Smith’s appointment and Grealish’s injury, Villa picked up 17 points, but since then they’ve won only twice and fallen off the pace in the play-off race.
Grealish will return to the squad this weekend and will find himself competing in a competitive central midfield, with Smith having plenty of options at his disposal.
Villa’s best performances this season have come with Grealish, John McGinn and Conor Hourihane operating in a three, but Tom Carroll has since been added to the squad, whilst Mile Jedinak, Glenn Whelan and Birkir Bjarnason all offer a better defensive option.
With Grealish returning, Hourihane is perhaps the man most at risk of Smith’s axe as he looks to find the formula to get Villa firing again.
The Irishman has four goals and nine assists to his name this season, but in Grealish’s absence it’s been levelled that he’s gone missing at times alongside McGinn, with the Villa midfield anonymous on more than one occasion.
This weekend at Derby, Hourihane is likely to start due to McGinn’s suspension, whether that’s ahead of Grealish or alongside him.
Either way, the 28-year-old will realise he needs a big afternoon and an assured performance if he’s to retain his place in the side for the run-in.
Grealish takes the pressure off, but there will still be eyes on his midfield contribution.