Aston Villa made sure yet again that their supporters would be the ones bouncing into work on Monday morning. A resounding 4-2 victory over Birmingham City pretty much gives an accurate oversight of the match.
Villa’s defence was somewhat under par, gifting opportunities on a number of occasions. But going forwards there was a constant threat combining quality deliveries with pace and power, which causing a ragged Blue’s back line all sorts of problems.
Alan Hutton‘s superb individual goal was worthy of clinching victory of such a momentous match and rightly grabbed the headlines. However, swallowing up his own fair share of column inches was Jack Grealish. Whilst his performance was, of course, capped off with a goal, it was his mentality which impressed me most of all.
Grealish feels like a kid who has embarked upon a really long an arduous road to get to the point he is at now. By that, I mean it feels like he’s been in the news and making headlines for a long time. Sometimes it is easy to forget that he is only just 23 years of age. And not all of it has been positive.
There have been the pictures of him on nights out inhaling whatever it may be from balloons. There have been pictures of him drunk and passed out on the street. Then there was the whole nationality selection saga which seemed to drag on forever. And of course, last summer saw the protracted transfer debacle which thankfully, never happened.
On the pitch, the talent has always been evident. He shone especially under Tim Sherwood. He played in a struggling side, let alone having the expectation to carry it along in such a situation is a big ask for any youngster. The ill-discipline off the pitch was often mirrored by his immaturity on the pitch at times.
Grealish has around 150 senior league appearances under his belt, including his loan to Notts County. To date, he has picked up a total of 27 yellow cards, which represents quite a hefty ratio. Even this season, Grealish is walking a suspension tightrope having already amassed four bookings.
Grealish’s bookings have often been borne out of frustration and petulance. In the past we have seen him kicking the ball away, retaliating to being fouled and general insolence towards the referee.
It’s no secret that Grealish is the Championship’s most fouled player. Yesterday saw that trend continue. The youngster has now won an incredible 91 fouls in just 18 matches, averaging just over five per game. So it’s understandable that there is occasionally some frustration on Grealish’s part.
That said, yesterday he showed exemplary discipline in the face of extreme provocation. To be honest, it’s a maturity which has been demonstrated for a while now. Sunday’s match simply highlighted just how far he has come.
With less than a minute of the game played, Maikel Kiftenbeld showed that Blues were going to employ the same tactics as every other Championship outfit that has faced us this season. The midfielder started with a hard tackle on Grealish in the hope of subduing him. Several other hard challenges came in during the opening stages of the game and left our playmaker on the deck. Maybe for half an hour or so it had an effect as Grealish didn’t make much of an impact as Villa were second best.
But the thing is, Grealish just kept on getting back up and going about his business, knowing that he would grow into the game. Which is exactly what happened and he was rewarded with his moment of glory. Surging toward the back post and connecting with a diving header to complete an epic couple of minutes as the game swung right round.
Grealish isn’t just demonstrating a maturity. He’s also developed a real intelligence in the game. A direct comparison with Craig Gardner on Sunday is a great example.
Grealish v Gardner
Gardner was exceptionally poor in this match. Whilst other Blues players had a clear directive to make their presence felt. Gardner seemed to be operating under his own drive to make a name for himself and spent most of the game trying to rile Grealish. One example was after fouling Grealish and leaving him on the deck, as well as trying to initiate a sneaky stamp. Gardner bent down and grabbed his ear in a blatant attempt to provoke a reaction.
Needless to say, it didn’t work. Gardner completely let the occasion get to him and instead of focusing on his own game, allowed himself to become consumed by numerous attempts to antagonise Grealish and also to yell at the referee in the hope that it would have some sort of effect. At no point did it click that he would’ve been better off trying to play football.
Grealish seemed to have developed the mindset of understanding why he is being targeted. It isn’t just because he is such an exceptional talent. It’s also because he is perceived as having a tendency to lash out. By keeping cool and taking the knocks as a compliment, Grealish is leaving the young boy who retaliates behind.
Big time player
Sunday was a huge occasion. It showed that Grealish has emerged into a big game player and can handle the pressure. The expectation and also anything the opposition throw at him.
He kept his cool. Even when he wasn’t in the game much, he bided his time and kept working hard until the game opened up without getting frustrated. When it mattered, he stuck his chance away.
Referee’s need to protect him more as some of the treatment he is receiving is dangerous and sooner or later will cause an injury. The consistency of fouls against Grealish has to be noted by the Football League. When every single team employs the same tactics of kicking one player, something has to be done.
For now though, despite surely being sore after every game, Grealish is winning. Other teams supporters hate him, which again is simply a backhanded compliment. Jack Squealish and Jack Girlish are popular monikers amongst those that would dearly love him in their team. We’ve got him though, and to us, he’s Super Jack.