The Chalkboard: Hourihane, not Whelan, must be dropped to accommodate McGinn

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith could be tempted to stick with the same starting XI that beat arch-rivals Birmingham City 1-0 in the second city derby at St Andrew’s on Sunday, but one player is really pushing for a start.

On the chalkboard

Following a two-game absence through suspension, key midfielder John McGinn was only named among the substitutes against the Blues with Smith choosing to stick with the trio of Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane and Jack Grealish in the centre after the 4-0 win against Derby County previously.

The scoreline was 0-0 when McGinn entered the fray as a 62nd minute substitute against Garry Monk’s men, and he made a clear difference in the final third as the visitors eventually ran out 1-0 victors to boost their play-off hopes.

Their trip to Nottingham Forest – whom they are two points adrift of in the Championship standings – on Wednesday night will be another key test of their promotion credentials and they need their best players on the pitch.

McGinn to start?

In a word, yes.

The 24-year-old has been a revelation following his summer arrival at Villa Park, and while the Midlands outfit impressed without the Scot when they thrashed the Rams, he is the sort of player you want in your ranks – on the road especially.

He has that grit, determination and willingness to put his foot in that will be needed against Martin O’Neill’s hosts in midweek, and the only thing Smith needs to decide is who drops out of the XI to accommodate him.

Grealish looks to be a certain starter given the magnitude of the game, and the easy option would probably be to leave the ageing Whelan on the sidelines.

However, the 35-year-old’s experience could be key against Forest, and therefore it is Hourihane who should drop out.

The former Barnsley man may have got on the score-sheet twice against Derby, but he was far more subdued at the weekend even if he was unlucky to hit the woodwork with a fine effort from just outside the penalty area.