Belfast Telegraph

Villa deserve this £170m return to big stage: Smith

Aston Villa 2-1 Derby

Get in: Anwar el Ghazi nets Villa’s opener
Get in: Anwar el Ghazi nets Villa’s opener

By Ed Elliot

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith got the royal seal of approval as he guided the club to a place in the Premier League - where he feels they belong.

Villa are back among the elite after three seasons away as goals from Anwar el Ghazi and John McGinn helped secure a 2-1 win over Derby in the £170m Championship play-off final.

The Wembley showdown was watched by Villa fan Prince William, who celebrated enthusiastically at the final whistle.

The club's media team then quickly knocked up a tweet showing the Duke of Cambridge knighting Smith.

Afterwards, Smith said: "I haven't met him yet but I'd like to. I could tell him he supports the right team."

It was an emotional day for the Smith family, all brought up as Villa fans, and especially after he had revealed his Villa-supporting father Ron suffers from dementia and does not know his son is the head coach.

"I went to see my old man on Friday and he kept his eyes open for two minutes," said Smith.

"I told him the next time I come to see him I'll be a Premier League manager, and he smiled."

The former Walsall and Brentford chief added: "Reality has just set in. It all feels a little bit surreal but it's no more than those lads deserve and no more than this football club deserves.

"The potential of the club is massive. It feels right. I believe this is a Premier League club. That's not me speaking with a supporter's head on. History tells you that.

"We've fallen on hard times. Last season was tough for everyone who went through the defeat here to Fulham. The players and the owners deserve what we are going to get."

Derby pulled one back through substitute Jack Marriott with nine minutes remaining, but Frank Lampard's side were unable to find an equaliser.

Reports linking Lampard with a managerial return to his former club Chelsea will not go away, especially following a defeat which condemns Derby to another season in the Championship. But Lampard insists he will not be jumping ship.

He insisted: "That's irrelevant. I've got a two-year contract here, I've loved working here and I want to continue that, and continue progressing.

"After my first year and the opportunity this club gave me it's massively important that everyone understands that is my overriding feeling.

"So that's where I am. I'll go away tonight and have a couple of beers with the lads and the staff, and afterwards we'll talk about where we go forward."

Meanwhile, Villa captain Jack Grealish said: "I can't explain how happy I am. It means the world, we all know where this club belongs."

He admitted he thought he would be leaving the club at the start of the season, with a move to a Premier League side seeming certain.

"I thought I was going, 10 months later I'm here now and I've led my boyhood club back to the Premier League as captain - perfect season," he said.

Goalscorer McGinn praised referee Paul Tierney for allowing his header to count when he challenged goalkeeper Kelle Roos.

McGinn said: "We deserve it, it was a tough game against Derby.

"Full credit to the referee. Half the referees would have given it as a foul but he let the goal stand. I'm over the moon to be a Premier League club."

On-loan Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham said: "This is what football is made of. We've worked hard all season, one last game, one last push and we gave a performance. We're going up!"

He refused to rule out a return to Villa next season.

He added: "Never say never. First of all I've got to enjoy it with the boys tonight, but you can never say never."

ASTON VILLA: Steer, Elmohamady, Tuanzebe ,Mings (Hause, 86 mins), Taylor, McGinn, Hourihane, Grealish, Adomah (Green, 73 mins), Abraham, El Ghazi.

Subs not used: Whelan, Lansbury, Jedinak, Kodjia, Kalinic.

DERBY COUNTY: Roos, Bogle, Keogh, Tomori, Cole, Mount, Huddlestone (Marriott, 63 mins), Johnson, Harry Wilson, Lawrence (Jozefzoon, 73 mins), Bennett (Waghorn, 69 mins).

Subs not used: Carson, Evans, MacDonald, Knight.

Match rating: 7/10

Man of the Match: John McGinn (A Villa)

Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)

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