Derby 0 Aston Villa 3 - Report and pictures
Villa produced their best performance of the season to date to stun in-form Derby and climb within three points of the Championship top six.
Dean Smith’s team scored three times in the final 16 minutes to claim a deserved victory at Pride Park.
John McGinn broke the deadlock when he headed home Yannick Bolasie’s cross, before setting up Tammy Abraham to double the lead.
Conor Hourihane then sealed a memorable afternoon when he curled home a free-kick, as Villa made it back-to-back wins for the first time since August.
The three points, from what as also Villa’s biggest win of the campaign, were only enough to lift Smith’s men to 11th but they are just nine points off the top of what is an increasingly congested table.
More importantly, this was the first time this season when they have put in a performance worthy of genuine promotion contenders, proof the new head coach’s methods are beginning to bear fruit now five games into this tenure.
The Rams went into the game as favourites and on a six-game winless run.
Villa, admittedly, rode their luck during a first-half when both teams had chances. Orjan Nyland twice denied Harry Wilson, while Tom Lawrence should have put the home side ahead after going clean through on goal.
But Villa were also guilty of squandering opportunities and in the second half they were dominant, with only poor finishing preventing them breaking the deadlock before McGinn finally did so 16 minutes from time.
Villa’s team was unchanged for the first time this season, with the only alteration to the squad being the presence on the bench of the fit-again Birkir Bjarnason in place of Anwar El Ghazi.
Derby’s team included one-time Villa loanee Scott Carson and the goalkeeper nearly helped the visitors take an early lead.
His poor clearance allowed Albert Adomah to advance and send in a cross but Jonathan Kodjia, having been left the ball by Jack Grealish, could only head over the bar.
The hosts threatened first through Lawrence, who sent a dipping shot just over the bar after James Chester had been caught in possession.
Harry Wilson also tested Villa keeper Nyland with a fierce drive from full-on 35 yards out which the keeper could only hold at the second attempt.
It was the visitors, however, who were starting to look increasingly dangerous and only a fine save from Carson prevented them from taking the lead just past the half-hour mark, the keeper getting down low to keep out Abraham’s header from Adomah’s cross.
Only in the final ten minutes of the half did Villa’s defence begin to seriously creak.
Three times in 30 seconds Derby went close to breaking the deadlock. First, Nyland denied Marriott with his legs after the striker had out-muscled Axel Tuanzebe to go through on goal.
Chester was then in the right place to block Harry Wilson’s follow-up, before Nyland kept out the midfielder’s second effort with a superb flying save.
Grealish shot wide as Villa looked to ease some of the pressure, while Kodjia was again guilty of a bad miss when he could only deflect Adomah’s cross wide from inside the six-yard box.
Carson’s subsequent goal-kick created the best chance of the half as Villa’s defence evaporated and Lawrence raced through, only to lift the ball over both Nyland and the bar.
Both teams were forced into changes with Ahmed Elmohamady replacing Neil Taylor for the visitors at the break.
The hosts then saw Mason Bennett go off early in the second half, former Brentford man Florian Jozefzoon replacing him.
After a nervy finish to the opening period, Villa seemed to have recovered some composure but still the finish eluded them.
Kodjia failed to make clean contact with a low Adomah cross after doing plenty of good work in the build up, while Abraham headed over an Elmohamady centre from six yards out.
With Grealish an increasing influence, a low Kodjia cross was inadvertently taken out of Abraham’s path by McGinn, with the ball rolling wide of the far post.
Kodjia was guilty of missing another excellent chance when he skied over after being set-up by Grealish, while a vital touch from Carson was required to deny Abraham a tap-in from Elmohamady’s cross.
Smith put Kodjia out of his misery when he introduced Bolasie off the bench with 20 minutes remaining and the on-loan Everton man would play a big hand in the visitors finally making the breakthrough soon after.
His cross from the left was nodded beyond Carson by McGinn, arriving late into the box.
Having waited so long for the opener, it took just four minutes for Villa to find the second. This time McGinn turned creator, his pinpoint cross from the left being poked past Carson at close range by Abraham.
Villa were not finished there. With six minutes remaining, McGinn was brought down 25 yards from goal and Hourihane lifted the free-kick over the wall and beyond Carson’s despairing dive.
74 GOAL John McGinn heads Villa in front from Yannick Bolasie’s cross.
78 GOAL Tammy Abraham doubles the lead, poking past Scott Carson from McGinn’s cross.
84 GOAL Conor Hourihane caps a memorable afternoon for Villa with a superb free-kick.
Derby (4-3-3): Carson, Bogle, Keogh, Tomori, Forsyth (Nugent 80), Holmes (Malone 70), Huddlestone, Wilson, Bennett (Jozefzoon 51), Marriott, Lawrence Subs not used: Johnson, Nugent, Davies, Bird, Malone, Roos (gk).
Villa (4-3-3): Nyland, Hutton, Tuanzebe, Chester, Taylor (Elmohamady HT), Hourihane, Grealish, McGinn, Adomah, Abraham (Hogan 87), Kodjia (Bolasie 70) Subs not used: Jedinak, Whelan, Bjarnason, Bunn (gk).