It was a dream come true for a couple of people in the dressing room at Villa Park come full-time. Dean Smith’s boyhood ambition of having bragging rights after the second-city derby was finally a reality, as was Jack Grealish’s desire to grab a goal against the club’s bitter rivals.
A six-goal thriller on a blisteringly cold Sunday lunchtime saw Villa come from behind in the first half to dominate the scoresheet, winning 4-2.
There couldn’t have been much of a better time for these noisy neighbours to meet. Just a single goal separating the two in the Championship must’ve made the fortnight break from club football feel like a lifetime.
In both technical areas, this was a managerial derby debut for Smith and Garry Monk. Ahead of the showdown, both knew how to sell it. Monk said "all the pressure was on Villa", and Smith played it down as just another fixture. The Blues have loved playing the underdog, especially under their latest manager. It’s part of how he managed to achieve the nail-biting victory over Fulham to stay up on the final day of last season, and take three points at Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds in September.
But as much as the visitors tried typically to slow down the game to start with, and plug the gaps, it wouldn’t last forever.
When the atmosphere started to dwindle only 25 minutes in, and the mediocre display began to inspire thoughts that this clash was doomed to be no more than a dull mid-table stalemate, the goals came flooding in and Villa Park was cranked up to 11.
First came Villa captain James Chester’s mistake, which lead to the opening goal. A Connor Mahoney corner looped over to the back post to find Jutkiewicz, who came flying in from the edge of the box to tuck it home. The October player of the month travelled the length of the field to the away corner to celebrate his ninth goal in as many games, where blue flares had already been set off and the party, be it the smaller one, had already started.
But Villa came back fighting immediately, and it didn’t take long to find an equaliser. Albert Adomah’s pace down the right-hand side seemed the optimum route to goal. His ball over was headed on to Kodjia, who had time to chest it down and hammer home. It was the lift home fans needed, and the momentum switched.
Minutes later, it was time for Villa’s own Jack Grealish to step up, as he’d spent a lot of the game on the floor. A long ball to the back post was nodded in by the young midfielder to complete the turnaround, wheeling away into a knee-slide in front of the Trinity Road stand. The stands were shaking with the deafening cheers, home fans cracking out their own claret flares.
The pace of the game was yet to settle as the second half got under way either. Referee Robert Jones signalled for a penalty as Blues captain Michael Morrison bought down Tammy Abraham – although replays showed it was a dubious call. The striker fired in off the post to put some daylight between them and the visitors.
Chance after chance came for both sides. A Conor Hourihane free-kick forced a fantastic save from Lee Camp, tipping it just over as Villa pushed for another. In similar fashion to Adomah earlier on, Mahoney came close as he cut into the box, his shot grazing the crossbar.
Birmingham's football hadn’t been the prettiest, but some defensive mistakes lead to a route back into the game just before the hour. Kristian Pederson was left with the freedom to volley home in the Villa box.
This wasn’t going to be enough though. As Villa continued to hit the visitors on the break, Alan Hutton then completed the damage with 15 minutes still to go with what the right-back described afterwards as the best goal of his career. Intercepting a ball in his own half, the Scot went on a driving run through the middle, City players melting away as he powered on towards goal. As he curled his shot past Camp into the bottom corner, Hutton jumped into the stands, a crowd of his teammates eventually joining to celebrate in the madness of it all.
The last time the Blues managed to engineer a win in the derby was when both sides were still in the Premier League together 13 years ago. They’ll now have to wait until the new year for another chance to put that stat to bed.
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