It is half-time at Aston Villa’s match away at Derby County and as the drizzle-soaked skies cleared over Pride Park, it became blindingly obvious that Villa under Dean Smith are a team transformed.
Even at the break, where the match remained goalless, the tentative and often flat away performances that fans were subjected to under Steve Bruce now seem a distant memory.
To tactician Smith, “there is no rocket science” as he said in his pre-match press conference. When his side loses the ball, he wants them to get it back quickly.
The new boss’ sentiment has been swiftly grasped by his players. Tireless midfielder John McGinn was leading the harassing and winning the ball back, reducing Derby to long balls – easily dealt with by a resolute claret and blue back-line to escape from their own territory.
Every second ball was won by the visitors; the home fans were voicing their frustration at the ease with which Smith’s side knocked the ball around, creating five chances in the first ten minutes of the second period.
Derby tried with no avail to create chances, but the immaculate Axel Tuanzebe, who has proven himself to be quite the centre-half prospect, bossed the defensive line with ease.
On 74 minutes, the Derby defensive door was battered down when McGinn opened the scoring with a thumping header from Yannick Bolasie’s cross.
Under Bruce, taking the lead away from home would mean backs to the wall defence, but Smith maintained the effective tactics and ten minutes later, goals from on-loan striker Tammy Abraham and a stunning strike from free-kick merchant Conor Hourihane put Villa three goals to the good and cued the Derby fans to charge towards the stadium’s numerous exits.
For Smith to have the audacity at Pride Park, a place where the in-form side in the Championship table, Birmingham City had visited only a week before and been dispatched 3-1 and to turn the Rams into lambs is incredible, considering the short time he has been at the helm.
The travelling Villa faithful summed it up on 82 minutes with a belting chorus of ‘Dean Smith’s barmy army’ followed by ‘he’s one of our own’, a chant that Villa fan Smith would have enjoyed in the technical area.
And with Birmingham drawing 3-3 at home to Hull City, the ‘second-city derby’ in a fortnight’s time looks set to be a mouth-watering match-up.
By Louis Mitchell at Pride Park