Conor Hourihane - One of the most important players over the past 5 years.
If it accurate that Conor Hourihane is set to depart Aston Villa in this January transfer window, it is important that we as Villa fans remember how much he has contributed to the turnaround in the club’s fortunes from a mediocre mid-table outfit to a re-established Premier League cohort.
Signed on the 26th of January 2017, Hourihane was one of 8 signings in the winter transfer window of Aston Villa’s maiden Championship campaign following an abysmal season which saw the team relegated from the Premier League. Signed for just £3.5 million, the signing should be seen as a bargain comparable to John McGinn or Christian Benteke. While he may not have immediately set the world alight, scoring 1 goal and assisting 3 as Villa meandered to a 13th place finish, Hourihane clearly had some quality to add to the team which was why only he and Neil Taylor could consider themselves regular starters. Hourihane had established himself in the team and had given himself the opportunity to kick on in the next season – and that he certainly did.
Playing in 41 out of 46 league games in the 2017/18 campaign, Hourihane added goals in abundance to his evident quality on the ball. This included a delightful hattrick against Norwich to earn Villa a first win of the season as well as key goals to secure wins against Sheffield Wednesday. However, the goal that Villa fans will remember most fondly would undoubtably be his stunning half volley against second city rivals Birmingham City in a 2-0 win. Playing in midfield alongside players such as Mile Jedinak, Glenn Whelan and Jack Grealish, he complemented these players and his left food added much creativity as the team reached the play off final, being beaten by Fulham.
The 2018/19 season was arguably Hourihane’s finest in a Villa shirt, maintaining his fine scoring form from the previous season and adding 12 assists to his game. Once again, he scored important goals at important times- his wand of a left foot topped off a top-quality team performance against Frank Lampard’s Derby to give Dean Smith his first victory as Villa boss. He added a creative spark throughout the season, spreading out his goals and assists to keep Villas promotion hopes alive long enough that a record breaking 10 match wining run allowed Villa to finish in the play offs for the second season running. The semi-finals against West Brom displayed Hourihane at his finest- his perfect strike levelled the tie and is a goal that will live long in the memory. Hourihane formed a formidable partnership with John McGinn during that season and the midfield, with the added quality of a returning Jack Grealish was one of the key reasons for Aston Villa’s eventual promotion back to the Premier League.
Despite a stellar 2018/19 season, Hourihane was not a consistent starter in a team which struggled to find its strongest starting 11 in Aston Villa's first season back in the Premier League, 2019/20. However, yet again, Hourihane continued to step up when it mattered, his vital goals such as his trademark freekick against Newcastle and the winner against fellow strugglers Norwich paved the way for crucial victories in Villa’s eventual successful quest for survival,. He filled in for John McGinn when he was injured for a large spell of the season and, while he contended with players such as Nakamba, Luiz and Grealish in a similar position, Dean Smith has never had a bad word to say about his attitude and the fans can not complain about his effort on the pitch. After Lockdown, in project restart, Hourihane was one of the key performers for Villa, as they went back to basics, Hourihane played a part in 3 of the 7 goals scored which eventually kept Aston Villa in the Premier League. Hourihane ended the campaign with 3 goals and 5 assists, despite only starting 17 games.
The addition of Ross Barkley to the equation, as well as the emergence of Jacob Ramsey, has meant that Hourihane’s opportunities are becoming more limited as every week comes. For a player who has several years left as an effective footballer, it is natural he may be looking for a new challenge and it is evident he is a player who deserves the opportunity to demonstrate his ability week in week out. He is a player that many would consider to be one of the most important figures of the last 5 years and he should leave with the appreciation of the fanbase.
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