Libor Kozak shows his worth to Aston Villa against Crystal Palace

The 26-year-old Czech striker put in a committed display on his first Premier League start since December 2013 to help Remi Garde's men secure a 1-0 home win.

After over two years, Libor Kozak was finally back in Aston Villa’s starting line-up for a Premier League game on Tuesday night as he played a key role in their 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace.

The Czech striker’s previous top-flight start also came against Palace on Boxing Day 2013, before he suffered a career-threatening leg break in training just a week later which kept him out of first-team action for the next 19 months.

His long-awaited return to the senior set-up this past preseason saw him bag three goals in five friendlies, suggesting that a successful comeback campaign was in store, but the fit-again front man instead made just one substitute appearance in the Capital One Cup over the first half of the term.

The appointment of Remi Garde as Tim Sherwood’s successor in early November offered some hope that he might be given the chance to revive his Villa career, but despite his impressive Under-21 performances, the new boss proved reluctant to pick him during his first two months at the club.

Garde even revealed ahead of the January transfer window that the 26-year-old forward would be free to leave the club amid reports claiming that a move to Celtic could be in the works, but recent developments hint that he could yet have a future in the Midlands.

After a surprise substitute appearance in the 3-1 defeat at Sunderland earlier this month, the Czech Republic international earned a shock start over Rudy Gestede for the visit of Alan Pardew’s men and justified his selection with a committed display to help the hosts record their first top-flight victory since the opening day of the season.

Vs Crystal Palace Total ShotsShots OntargetKey PassesTotal PassesPassing AccuracyDuels WonHeaders WonTotal DribblesSuccessful DribblesTotal TacklesTotal ClearancesMins Played
Libor Kozák 2 1 1 23 65% 13 7 2 2 3 4 90

While he was slightly rusty in front of goal, the 6ft 3in attacker worked his sock off for the entire 90 minutes while leading the line, winning a match-leading 13 duels and seven headers to help keep his side on top of proceedings.

While not a target man in the mould of Gestede, he showed more than enough strength to hold off defenders, and despite his lack of pace, offered far superior movement compared to his fellow front man, even completing two dribbles on the night.

Already a firm fan favourite before Tuesday night, his efforts only helped further endear him to the claret and blue faithful and Garde was full of praise for him after the match.

“I was pleased with Libor,” the Frenchman told the club’s official website. “I think he worked very hard for the team. He could have scored but I think he was finally offside on a good throughball.

“When I arrived at the club, I thought he needed to work more physically. It was not easy for him. I saw in the last two weeks that he was in better shape. His training sessions were better. I thought he could be the one today to help us to win.

“I knew he had a tough time. But he never let down his attitude. He is very professional. He showed me he could be very helpful for the team.”

It remains to be seen whether Garde will ultimately keep Kozak in his plans over the coming weeks, but having clearly demonstrated that he is a better fit for the team’s style of play than Gestede, he would be wise to give the popular front man a chance to show what he can do with more minutes under his belt.

After all, he seemed to be showing signs of developing into a solid Premier League striker during his first few months at the club after signing from Lazio in September 2013, netting four goals in 14 games, and there is no reason to believe that he cannot recapture his past promise given his age and last night’s display.

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