Date: 18th March 2019 at 6:20am
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Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Aston Villa head coach Dean Smith revealed his starting XI for Saturday’s Championship clash with Middlesbrough as the expectation was that midfielder Conor Hourihane would continue to take his place in the lineup.

Most, including me, made the assumption that with no talk of an injury in the build-up to the game, he’d simply come down with a virus or the dreaded man flu. In any event he was replaced by Glenn Whelan who put in another immense showing and was the Man of the Match in the eyes of many fans.

Discussing the midfield set up as he spoke to the Official Site following the game, Smith confirmed that his wife had given birth to their baby on Friday evening, and that was the reason he missed out.

“He (John McGinn) knows he’s got to play well to keep his shirt. Conor missed out today because his wife had a baby last night. Glenn came in and he was excellent. It’s great that I have players coming back and I have players playing like that to keep the shirt. He (Glenn Whelan) does his job brilliantly. Technically he’s very good. He didn’t give the ball away much at all. He won a lot of headers in front of the back four. The back five look unbeatable, too, at the moment. We’ve only conceded one goal in the last four games.”

Few will disagree with his comments on McGinn and Whelan as in more recent times the latter has certainly won fans over with his performances, but congratulations to Hourihane nonetheless.

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