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Aston Villa 2018-19 player preview: Conor Hourihane

The Irish midfielder may need to step up to lead Villa this season

Aston Villa v West Ham United - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

For years, Aston Villa had been crying out for a goal-scoring midfielder. Last year, Conor Hourihane solidified himself in that role.

The Irish midfielder, signed in January 2017 from Barnsley, has probably been Steve Bruce’s best signing at Villa Park. He struggled through his first half-season in claret and blue (largely being played out of position), but Hourihane jumped back into action last year with an 11-goal effort to firmly stake his claim as a regular in the XI.

The positive with Hourihane is that he’s not just a goal scorer — in fact, he led the Championship with 15 assists in 2016/17, 12 of which came at Barnsley before he made the switch. He’s got promotion credentials, too, as he helped lead the Tykes to the Championship before making the intra-division move to Villa.

Yet if you asked Villa supporters who their best player was last year, Hourihane would’ve been fairly far down many’s list. He’s an interesting player, in that he sometimes puts in pretty quiet performances when he’s not popping up on the scoresheet. For as long as Jack Grealish is at the club and starting matches though, that’s fine — Jack’s good enough to do a lot of the heavy lifting in the middle of the park.

If Grealish leaves, though, Hourihane is the first guy who will be looked to for that midfield leadership role. He’s primed for it, too. Expect big things out of Villa’s No. 14 this season.