Conor Hourihane hailed as Aston Villa midfielder returns to Sunderland for big Championship clash
Conor Hourihane never got a chance to progress from Sunderland's Academy into the first team.
But he will be back at the Stadium of Light tomorrow as a key man in Aston Villa’s push for automatic promotion.
The Irishman, now 27, joined the Black Cats’ youth set-up in Roy Keane’s reign on Wearside, but never made a first-team appearance, option to join Ipswich at the end of his contract in 2010.
He has been a big success at Plymouth and Barnsley since, and is now a pivotal member of Steve Bruce’s third-placed Villa squad, with nine goals this term.
Bruce hailed Corkman Hourihane, saying: “For £1million or whatever we paid for him, he’s been fantastic value. He enjoys playing football, training and all aspects of it.
“When he gets in and around the 18-yard box, he’s a wonderful finisher.
“He practices every day and is usually the last person out on the training ground doing extras.
“To get the amount of goals and assists he has, he can be very pleased. Let’s hope he continues.”
Villa were due to host QPR on Saturday, but the game was called off on the morning of the match.
The postponement was good news for one Villan, midfielder Jack Grealish.
On Friday, Bruce said: “Albert (Adomah) is fit to play. He’s trained all week, which is good for us.
“It might be a bit early for Grealish, but we’re hoping he might be involved at Sunderland. But we’re glad Adomah, one of our key attacking threats, is back.”
Villa definitely miss ex-Sunderland loanee Alan Hutton and Axel Tuanzebe.
Sunderland’s clash with their old manager is one of several crucial battles at the bottom of the table tomorrow night.
The Black Cats are on 28 points, one behind Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, whose epic wait for a home victory continues with a home game against Brentford. The Brewers were among the sides hit by postponements on Saturday.
Managerless Birmingham, third-bottom on 30 points after a 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest, are at home to Middlesbrough, while Barnsley, out of the drop zone on 32 points, get back into action with a tough trip to second-top Cardiff City.
The Tykes’ weekend game against Norwich was called off, hitting boss Jose Morais’s bid to make it three games undefeated.
Fifth-bottom Hull (on 33 points) are at home to a Miillwall side unbeaten in nine.
Reading and Bolton are locked together on 34 points, and meet in a potentially pivotal clash at the Madejski Stadium tomorrow.