Aston Villa are back in the Premier League after beating Derby 2-1 in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley.
A year after losing in last season’s play-off final, Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn – who capitalised on a blunder from Derby goalkeeper Kelle Roos – scored either side of the break to steer Villa into the top flight after three years away.
For Derby, who made things nervy for Villa with a late Jack Marriott goal, it was another heartbreaking trip to the play-offs. Their wait for top-flight football now stretches to 11 years, and they will play in the Championship again next season.
Dean Smith, meanwhile, who started the season in charge of Brentford, could celebrate the glory of steering his boyhood club to where many feel they belong.
The breakthrough came shortly before half-time. It was a game lacking any kind of quality in the final third at either end, until Ahmed Elmohamady’s brilliant cross on 44 minutes was turned in by El Ghazi in the six-yard box, even though it appeared to come more off his shoulder than his head.
El Ghazi then played a key role in Villa’s second after 59 minutes, and it was a moment Derby goalkeeper Roos will be keen to forget. El Ghazi’s shot was deflected high up into the air, and Roos rushed out to claim it, but could only spill it onto the head of McGinn, who gratefully – even if he wasn’t completely aware of it – nodded into an empty net.
Derby boss Frank Lampard quickly responded by throwing on strikers Jack Marriott and Martyn Waghorn and Derby did improve. Twice they had decent opportunities shortly after the 70-minute mark, but Jayden Bogle could only find the side netting from a narrow angle before Mason Mount fired wide from the edge of the box.
Marriott, who surprisingly didn’t start after his heroics against Leeds in the semi-finals, then grabbed a goal back after 82 minutes when he reacted quickly in the box to control Bogle’s knockdown to take a touch and slam into the bottom corner.
Derby then pushed and pushed for an equaliser, but Villa saw the game through to send the fans in Claret and Blue wild.