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Should Aston Villa keep Conor Hourihane or set him free?

With Conor Hourihane seemingly heading for the exit door, let’s take a look over his time at Aston Villa.

Conor Hourihane of Aston Villa against Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images

It won’t come as a shock to many Villa fans to see Conor Hourihane linked with a move away this January transfer window, see below, and many see it as the perfect option for all parties. Hourihane, at 29, is a player in the peak of his career and deserves to be playing regular first team football. He has been a modal professional and an outstanding servant for Villa in their battle for promotion and many believe that the least the Villa could do is provide him with the opportunity to find first team football elsewhere. With a current midfield of John McGinn and Douglas Luiz playing behind Jack Grealish, not to mention Ross Barkley coming back from injury, it would be unfair of Villa to force Hourihane to spend his peak years sat on the bench.

On the other hand, many Villa fans would be deeply disappointed to see such a high-quality player leave the side when the Villa are facing a heavily congested end to the season. Hourihane has managed to keep up with the speed and quality of the Premier League since promotion in 2019, an incredible achievement when you consider he was playing in League 2 for Plymouth Argyle 5 years prior. Hourihane’s rise through the leagues is a rare story with the current finances in the Premier League and the obsession with finding quick easy solutions from abroad. Let’s take a look at his Villa career so far and question if Dean Smith should consider keeping hold of him or helping him find regular first-team football.

2016/17 Aston Villa

Hourihane signed for Villa on 26 January 2017 but was on the losing side for his first 5 starts for Villa until scoring in a 2 – 0 win over Bristol City on 28 February 2017. He made 17 appearances (14 starts) for Villa in the second half of that campaign scoring 1 goal and providing 3 assists as Villa finished 13th in the Championship.

Aston Villa v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

2017/18 Aston Villa

In his first full season in a Villa shirt, fans were made aware as to why Steve Bruce was so desperate to sign him. Villa’s first home game of the season, a 4 – 2 victory over Norwich City, saw Hourihane become the first player to score a league hat-trick since Christian Benteke in 2013.

Despite the season agonisingly finishing in play-off defeat, Hourihane managed to score 11 league goals from midfield in 41 appearances. The most memorable of which was a left-footed looping volley in a 2 – 0 victory at home over Birmingham City.

Aston Villa v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Leila Coker - CameraSport via Getty Images

2018/19 Aston Villa

The 2018/19 season saw the appointment of Dean Smith at Aston Villa and a surge up the table resulting in Villa securing promotion to the Premier League. All Villa fans would agree Hourihane played a pivotal part in Villa’s success that season and the record breaking 10 game winning streak.

A midfield 3 of Grealish, McGinn and Hourihane proved to be tough opposition for anyone in the Championship.

Hourihane clocked up 20 goal involvements this season (8 goals and 11 assists), most noticeably a crucial winner in the first leg of the play-off semi-final against West Bromwich Albion. Hourihane’s form this season saw him rewarded with a new three-year deal following promotion to the Premier League.

Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Play-off - Semi Final - First Leg - Villa Park Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

2019/20 Aston Villa

Only Jack Grealish had more goal involvements for the Villa in Hourihane’s first season in the Premier League and no one had more assists per 90 than Hourihane with 0.29 as Villa narrowly avoided relegation on the last day of the season.

Hourihane managed to score in both fixtures against Norwich City but the pick of the bunch was a beautifully curled free kick at home to Newcastle in a 2 - 0 win (Hourihane assisting the second 4 minutes later).

The table below is a fantastic indication on the threat that Hourihane can provide in the Premier League.

@graph_root

Only Jack Grealish had more expected assists last season and only John McGinn and Grealish created more shot creating actions per 90 minutes.

Aston Villa v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

2020/21 Aston Villa

This season, with the signing of Ross Barkley and with Douglas Luiz playing so well, Hourihane has only started 3 out of 15 games.

Despite scoring one and assisting one in his three starts, is it time to thank Hourihane and allow him to find first team football?

No matter what the final outcome will be this month for Conor Hourihane, he will be remembered fondly by all fans for his time at Aston Villa.