Dean Smith reacts after Aston Villa's Conor Hourihane plays left-back for Ireland

Dean Smith manager of Aston Villa looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Stoke City at Villa Park on December 15, 2018 in Birmingham, England.

Conor Hourihane might just have given Aston Villa manager food for thought ahead of the Premier League's return this weekend.

Conor Hourihane of Aston Villa applauds the fans after the Carabao Cup Second Round match between Crewe Alexandra and Aston Villa at Gresty Road on August 27, 2019 in Crewe, England.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has warned John McGinn and Jack Grealish that they cannot afford to let their performance levels drop while paying tribute to Conor Hourihane’s performance in an unfamiliar left-back role for the Republic of Ireland this week, while speaking to AVTV.

Villa are spoilt for choice in the centre of the park right now.

£11 million summer signing Marvelous Nakamba is yet to kick a ball in the Premier League while the likes of Hourihane, Douglas Luiz and Henri Lansbury have been in and out of Smith’s team since their return to the top flight.

 

Hourihane, who started the opening day defeat to Tottenham but has lost his place since then, showed his versatility at left-back as Ireland beat Bulgaria 3-1 in a friendly on Tuesday.

And while ROI boss Mick McCarthy confirmed in typically straight-talking fashion that Hourihane was not a long-term option on the flank, Smith was clearly impressed by a man who is fighting for a return to the starting XI.

“Conor Hourihane’s gone away with Ireland and done really well,” said the former Brentford boss.

John McGinn, Jack Grealish and Alan Hutton of Aston Villa celebrate promotion to the Premier League from their hotel balcony infront of fans after the Sky Bet Championship Play-off Final...

“The most consistent players from last season, Jack Grealish and John McGinn, know they’ve got to be at their top level because there’s other players pushing them.”

Smith admitted to the Birmingham Mail after the 6-1 EFL Cup thrashing of Crewe Alexandra a fortnight ago that Hourihane was far from pleased after being dropped to the bench but insisted that his focus is on securing results, not keeping his players happy.

If Hourihane wants his place back, he will have to earn it on merit.

Dublin , Ireland - 10 September 2019; Conor Hourihane of Republic of Ireland throws the ball in during the 3 International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria at Aviva...

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