It was a moment Alan Hutton will certainly never forget. With 15 minutes of a raucous derby remaining and Villa leading 3-2, the veteran Scotland full-back set off on a mazy run from 10 yards inside his own half that took him past four players and ended with an emphatic curled finish with his left foot into the corner of Birmingham’s net.
In Dean Smith’s first taste of one of England’s fiercest rivalries as a manager, this was some way to round off what will go down as a famous victory in these parts. A third goal in 186 matches since he moved to Villa from Tottenham in 2011 even had the humorists on social media describing the 33-year-old as “Hutton dressed as Lahm” in reference to the former Germany captain. But, after Villa battled back from Lukas Jutkiewicz’s opener to record a third successive win that lifts them up to eighth spot, Hutton deservedly basked in the glory at the Holte End at the full-time whistle.
For Smith – who used to attend matches here as a child with his father, who worked as a steward at Villa Park – it was also a day to remember as Jonathan Kodjia, Jack Grealish and a Tammy Abraham penalty gave Hutton the platform for his heroics. “I went through the rollercoaster a little bit emotionally because we didn’t play well today,” he said. “We were just too ponderous at the start but when we moved the ball quicker, things started to happen. There was a fantastic crowd today and we have sent a lot of people home happy.”
This is not usually a game renowned for its quality and things did not bode well when Grealish’s kick-off sailed straight out of play. Rather generously, he was allowed to retake it but, within 30 seconds, was on the receiving end of a clattering foul by Maikel Kieftenbeld – a Dutchman clearly schooled in the meaning of this occasion.
It was to become a recurring theme as Grealish was targeted throughout the opening half, with Villa struggling to find their rhythm against a Birmingham defence initially well marshalled by captain Michael Morrison.
Garry Monk’s side came into the match having conceded three times in both their previous matches to sit just behind their neighbours only on goal difference in the table, although successive wins over Derby and Bolton ensured it was Villa who had the momentum. Jutkiewicz clearly had not read the script, though, as he volleyed home Connor Mahoney’s deep corner to score Birmingham’s first goal at Villa Park since April 2008.
The pocket of away fans in the corner of the Doug Ellis stand erupted and their joy was almost doubled 10 minutes later when Che Adams stretched to meet Craig Gardner’s cross and diverted it on to the post. Within 60 seconds, Villa were level as Morrison failed to deal with Albert Adomah’s ball in from the right and Kodjia fired home from close range. Less than two minutes later, another pinpoint cross from Adomah – this time cutting inside on to his left foot – allowed Grealish to turn the game on its head.
With the home supporters suddenly finding their voices, it suddenly seemed like a long way back for Birmingham. Their task was made even harder at the start of the second half when Morrison brought down Abraham in the box and the referee, Robert Jones, immediately pointed to the spot, with the Chelsea loanee making no mistake from 12 yards.
Yet, to their credit, Birmingham refused to give up and found a way back into the game when Kristian Pedersen volleyed home from close range after an excellent cross from Adams.
Adomah was forced off the field after an awful challenge from Wes Harding that could easily have led to the defender being shown a red card but it was another full-back the Villa fans were talking about as they left the ground. “I watch all the goals, that’s my job,” said Monk when asked if he will try to avoid any replays of Hutton’s goal, with no Birmingham player getting close to anything resembling a tackle. “I’m not worried one bit – my focus is on helping these players and this is another hurdle for us to overcome.”