Aston Villa coach Gordon Cowans talks up Tiago Ilori after U21s performance

The 22-year-old Liverpool loanee put in a solid display at centre-back in Monday night's 2-1 win over Derby County.

Aston Villa Under-21 manager Gordon Cowans has praised fit-again defender Tiago Ilori for his performance in Monday night’s 2-1 home victory over Derby County.

Cowans was speaking to AVTV after seeing Libor Kozak score either side of half-time at Villa Park to hand his side all three points in their U21 Premier League Division Two clash.

Ilori was making his first start for the team since mid-September after recovering from a groin strain, and the versatile 22-year-old produced an impressive 90-minute display at centre-back to help limit the table-topping visitors to one goal.

The former Portugal Under-21 international, who is on a season-long loan from Liverpool, has still not made his first-team debut for Villa, but Cowans was quick to talk up his potential after witnessing his latest run-out.

“I thought he won a lot of the aerial challenges,” the Villa coach said of Ilori. “He broke the game down pretty well. He’s very athletic with his pace and he’s very composed on the ball.

“I thought he looked the part tonight, but it’s obviously very different playing an Under-21 game compared to a Premier League game.”

Cowans’ side also had teenage winger Adama Traore in the line-up against the Rams and the summer signing from Barcelona showcased his talent with a pinpoint cross from the right for Kozak’s 34th-minute opener.

However, after Villa boss Remi Garde stated earlier this month that the skilful wide man needs to improve his team work to earn more first-team minutes, his Under-21 coach seemed to be of the same mind.

“Adama is obviously a threat when he gets at people,” added Cowans. “But he needs to learn to do the other side of the game as well – track his runners and help his mates out.”

Adama, 19, has now made four appearances for Villa’s Under-21s this season, while Ilori has also featured four times for the side at either centre-back or in a defensive midfield role.

The highly-rated loanee joined the club from Liverpool on deadline day on a season-long deal, with a view to a permanent move in the summer, but injuries have so far kept him out of the first-team picture.

However, he made the senior bench for the first time in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Southampton, and with his ability to play several positions, he is now hoping to force his way into new boss Garde’s plans over the coming weeks.

"I haven't played football for a good couple of months and it was great to play 90 minutes,” he told the club’s official website following the Derby game. "I need consistency and to get match fit so to play for the U21s was great - the win was important too.

"It's been very frustrating. But I was on the bench on Saturday so I'm as close as I can be now.”

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