Aston Villa’s sensational 4-0 demolition of Derby County last weekend has given renewed optimism that the club can finally put a run of results together, gatecrash the top six and nail a playoff position.
Jack Grealish’s return was the obvious catalyst for the first half blitz. Worldy volley and all, and having him available to pull the strings once again for the run in will obviously be crucial if results in his absence are anything to go by.
But if there is to be a surge upwards in the league, there could be some unsung heroes in Grealish’s shadow. One of the most unlikely could be Kortney Hause.
The on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers defender has improved game upon game since his arrival during the January transfer window. Some may say that wasn’t a tough task after his first couple of showings. But the strides he has taken in such a short time have been incredibly encouraging.
An introduction from the bench during the dire 3-0 surrender up at Wigan Athletic caused many to question just what we had gotten ourselves into. Hause looked way off the pace. Perhaps understandable for a player who had barely kicked a ball for eighteen months. Those 27 minutes offered very little to get excited about and a whole lot to be concerned over.
A switch to left back for his next appearance raised some eyebrows and saw another fairly anonymous outing in the sickening last minute 1-0 defeat to Brentford. Hause was easily dispossessed on several occasions during the game. It just didn’t seem to be working out. Frankly, he just didn’t look good enough.
However, since then, Dean Smith’s decision to persevere with Hause ahead of Neil Taylor has been rewarded with steadier showings. Hause earned decent plaudits both in the 2-0 loss at home to West Bromwich Albion and again in the 1-1 draw with Stoke City. But he outdid himself with an outstanding display against Derby this weekend.
Hause looked so fluid and athletic, getting forward with real purpose putting in a couple of useful deliveries into the box. When Tommy Elphick exited injured, Hause shifted into a more familiar centre back position and continued to excel. He won battles both in the air and on the ground.
It is here where Hause is now likely to have a big say in Villa’s run in. With the news filtering through that Elphick’s foot injury will keep him sidelined for six weeks Hause is the only other recognised fit and available centre half along with the also impressive Tyrone Mings.
With Axel Tuanzebe hopefully returning in a couple of weeks and James Chester still without a return date set, Hause is going to be vital in a huge week. It will see Villa face bitter rivals Birmingham City and fellow playoff contenders Nottingham Forest before battling with perennial promotion chasers Middlesborough.
Its a remarkable progression for a player that looked so out of sorts just a few weeks ago to now having become a potentially crucial member of the first team.
Hause will have tougher opponents than a Rams outfit that are currently riding the crest of a slump. And as this is Aston Villa, we should always be wary of false dawns and too much optimism! But if Hause can continue to be a commanding presence (he won a mighty 10 aerial duals against Stoke City according to WhoScored.com). Continue to build confidence with assured performances, then we may have a good chance of a decent points return in the coming week.
Smith clearly fancies Hause over Taylor at left back which also seemingly guarantees him a place in the team even when Tuanzebe and Chester return. His incisiveness and link up play were far better than anything we’ve seen from the Welshman all season.
Left back has been a real issue for us in general. Alan Hutton was even being preferred on many occasions which speaks volumes for Taylor’s future under Smith in my opinion. With Villa having an option to make Hause’s stay permanent at the end of the loan agreement, we could have a young, dynamic, English player who finally solves that problem who also gives us some versatility across the back if needed. Who’d have thought it just a few weeks ago?
Of course, other players are equally as important if Villa is to mount a late challenge. Mings himself has been integral already in the circumstances for example. Tammy Abraham’s goals will continue to be critical for us. John McGinn’s return is highly anticipated. And yes, Grealish is obviously the main man.
But for a player who seemed destined to be little more than a despairing back up option after that initial Wigan performance, Hause’s rise has in such a short amount of time has been incredible. Let’s hope the upward trajectory continues.