There are many ways to enjoy a derby match, but experiencing adversity in the opening ten minutes before taking things into your hands and deciding the game on your own is likely up there with one of the best.
All will be revealed - but please take a bow, Jack Grealish.
Today’s Second City derby arrived with a lot more at stake than simple bragging rights. A win for Villa would show a clearer path towards the play-offs than had previously existed. A win for Birmingham would do the exact same for the Blues, and damn Villa’s play-off chances almost altogether.
Aston Villa, in their traditional claret shirts, had been forced into an uncomfortable defensive change due to Tommy Elphick’s injury against Derby County. Tyrone Mings was kept in on the left-side, but fellow left-footer Kortney Hause was placed as his right-sided partner. The pair, rightly so, decided to take their time in posession during the early stages of the derby.
The St Andrews hive provided a hostile, buzzing platform for Jack Grealish who was chopped down within the first three minutes by Maikel Kieftenbeld, who was quickly awarded a yellow card. The Dutch enforcer had no eye on the ball and whipped Grealish’s legs from underneath him. Villa’s star-man wasn’t phased at all, and created a scoring chance before one of the first major talking points of the match emerged.
With Grealish’s chance wasted, he stood alone in the Birmingham end of the pitch - when a lone Bluenose sprinted onto the pitch and attempted to punch Grealish from behind. His attack failed to fully connect and Grealish laughed it up - but it wasn’t one of the more pleasant events to have happened during a Second City derby. The context of the ‘attack’ made it all the more concerning - it was ten minutes into a 0-0 game on a Sunday. On a better note, at least it came to nothing - but man, that does sum those lot up, right? At least hit him from the front.
What’s better? Grealish laughed it off. The ‘attack’ came to nothing and not ten minutes later, Grealish sliced open the defence to allow Anwar El-Ghazi through on goal. The Dutch winger missed, but it was more than enough proof that Grealish wasn’t at all fazed by the event.
Villa’s Tammy Abraham found the best chance of the match after a press from Conor Hourihane released the ball to him right in front of goal. He was only able to knock it over from point-blank range, but did complain that it had taken a late deflection from a Birmingham City player.
At the other end, Hause and Mings clashed with Che Adams and Lukas Jutkiewicz in a very ‘hands-on’ battle, but for the most part, the managed to ensure that there was very little ‘threat’ heading towards Jed Steer in the Villa goal. In fact, the only real threat towards Steer was a late kick by Lukas Jutkiewicz who was challenging for a loose ball - with the Blues forward grabbing the another yellow card for Blues.
As the second half started, Jack Grealish showed his intentions by offering a speculative shot that flew high and wide - but it was plenty enjoyable to see that Grealish remained unaffected by the hostilities thrown his way. Blues returned the favour, but Adams’ weak shot could only find the wanting feet of Tyrone Mings.
Blues enjoyed another card as David Davis entered the book with a push on Grealish, but they found some luck from the referee as Anwar El Ghazi was pulled back for a push after racing into a great position.
Villa’s first booking of the tightly-contested derby saw Kortney Hause collect the yellow card after slipping on the ball and colliding with Che Adams. Hause had endured some slight struggles after relying on his weaker right-foot, and it was clearly evident.
Dean Smith’s decision to energise Aston Villa via a double substitution almost paid instant dividends. John McGinn and Andre Green, seconds after coming onto the pitch, combined with a neat flick and pivot to send Jack Grealish through on goal - opening up the box. The effort was only prevented from releasing the scoreline by a rampant Wes Harding. The ball fell loose to Anwar El Ghazi, who crossed into McGinn who nodded down for Abraham, who could do no more but miss. An event Villa fans all over the world would become thankful for..
As the game reset following Abraham’s miss, Jack Grealish had found a wormhole on the edge of the box. The type of portal that only he is capable of discovering. It pulled, and pulled and dragged Grealish into the corner of the box. Through a crowd of shirts, Grealish was able to spear the ball into the corner of the net and unleash 65 minutes of built up emotion. Leaping into a mass of arms, the Birmingham-born youngster found a new home - in the corner of St Andrews where Aston Villa have looked so, so comfortable in the past few seasons.
As the smoke bombs cleared, a stunned Jack Grealish stood alone, thumbs pointed to the name on his shirt. Jack Grealish - a name that Villa fans will always remember, and one that Bluenoses will never forget.
Kortney Hause almost dampened Villa celebrations with a clear foul in the box. His push on Che Adamas should have been punished, and while he’d have avoided another yellow, Birmingham City should have been awarded a penalty. But here’s the thing - s**t happens. If you’re going to applaud a clear assault on a player, then I hope the balance of the universe goes against you. Should Blues have enjoyed a penalty? Yes, but Jack Grealish shouldn’t be hit by a Blues fan on a football pitch.
Those slight nerves were almost banished shortly after Hause’s ‘foul’ - as Grealish once again found all the space he needed to release Conor Hourihane. The Irishman pulled the trigger and almost, almost doubled Villa’s lead, but his curling shot could only crack the face of the crossbar and spin into the Villa faithful behind the goal.
With ten minutes left to play in the match, Jack Grealish’s part in the derby came to a close. He was taken off for a rest, with Birkir Bjarnason coming on. Tyrone Mings - who had been excellent all game - deservedly took the captain’s armband from an embattled Grealish.
Villa endured a late scare as Che Adams executed the best slice of individual brilliance seen all game with an industrial dribble that took him from the penalty spot to the edge of the box, marshalled by Villa players all the way - only to release an attack for Birmingham that Craig Gardner should have buried as five additional minutes were signalled.
Blues set on an attack, and wasted it. Pushing goalkeeper Lee Camp into the box, it was decided to take the kick before the extra man arrived. Craig Gardner had a free header - and missed - which begs the question - why not wait on the ball until the extra man had shown up in the box? The best clear chance to overturn Villa’s lead was spurned and the final whistle arrived to relief - with Grealish sprinting on the pitch to congratulate the 11 men on the pitch who had seen the result out.
On a final note, we have to acknowledge the new lows that football tribalism is sinking to. What if there was a blade in the hands of the Birmingham City fan (and yes, he is a fan) that attacked Jack Grealish? And why is that man enjoying applause as he is dragged of the pitch? Is this the picture of our city that Birmingham fans want to broadcast? Why are we ignoring the terms ‘football’ and ‘fan’ in our descriptions of Grealish’s attack? This is part of football. Again. Birmingham have learned one thing today and that is that Jack Grealish will hit back.
Anyway, the city is his. Enjoy it, Jack.
Up The Villa!