Dean Smith believes he has a “really special” talent at his disposal after one man stole the show for Aston Villa against Everton.
Villa claimed a 3-0 win against Everton, with all the goals coming within a 10-minute window in the second half. Other than that, it was a competitive game, but Villa were more decisive in the final third. They seized their moment and made the most of it.
Matty Cash and Leon Bailey scored either side of a Lucas Digne own goal, which itself came from a Bailey corner. The goals fell in the 66th, 69th and 75th minutes.
The win was a welcome boost for a Villa side that has been tipped for big things this season but has began with inconsistent form.
They found their rhythm and took steps up the table, providing something to build momentum from.
It was a tougher battle than the scoreline may suggest, though. In fact, Smith thought it was Everton who were in charge of proceedings before his own side scored.
The introduction of Bailey from the bench in the 61st minute – even though he only lasted around 20 minutes before limping off – proved pivotal, as Smith went on to explain.
Smith told Sky Sports: “I thought we were the better team in the first half but didn’t create as many clear-cut chances as we’d like. I felt five minutes before our goal, they were on top.
“Matt Targett was playing really high and I thought, why not get Leon Bailey on there?
“Leon put the corner in for the goal and scored the third. The first goal was great build-up and Matt [Cash] has put it in the top bin.
“I thought Leon would lift us a bit.
“He’s really special. He’s a really good player. That’s why we got him here.
“He’s a good lad; the lads love him. He’s really humble and a good person. I hope it’s just a tight thigh; that’s what he said to the doctors. We hope we caught it in time.
“Brilliant. I’ve got a special affinity with the stadium and supporters. It’s a special stadium – when it’s rocking under the floodlights there’s no better place.
“We were on the reverse of a 3-0 last week and it felt unjust. I felt we kept up to our standards today.”
As well as Bailey, someone else who had to leave the field after a short time on it was John McGinn.
The midfielder was withdrawn in the first half as a concussion substitute after taking two separate blows to the head.
Some concerns have been raised as to why he wasn’t taken off after the first incident, so Smith explained: “He got a whack on the head. He got another whack. He felt fine to carry on [after the first one].
“There was a break in play when he alerted me to it and I told the doctor. You’re guided by the player. He didn’t express concussion symptoms when he did it but there was a second one and then he did.”
Bailey reacts to first Villa goal
There has been much excitement at Villa Park about the summer addition of Bailey, who was delighted to get off the mark.
The winger explained after the game how happy he was to have made the most of his cameo.
And promisingly, he was also able to confirm his substitution was merely precautionary.
He told Sky Sports: “It means so much to me, to accomplish what I did in the 21 minutes. My family was here and the fans chanting my name when I came on. It is such an amazing feeling. I feel I have welcomed myself here as a Villa player.
“My son is here, he is a great part of my life and had motivated me. My girlfriend has been a backbone for me and my brother has been supportive. I felt comfortable and I felt I needed to do it for them and the fans.
“In the moment I just said I am going to smash the ball. It was bouncing, I took the time to be relaxed, focused to make sure I hit it properly.
“The injury was from the shot, I hit it too hard and started feeling stiff in my quad. I don’t think it was anything too serious but didn’t want to risk it.”