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.
“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.
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