Where Are They Now? – Aston Villa vs Derby County’s 2019 Play-Off Final

The EFL play-offs have been a revelation since its introduction in 1987 and continue to provide moments of pure elation as well as bitter heartbreak. In recent times, some key performers in this tournament have gone on to play for Europe’s top clubs, while many have remained in the lower tiers of England.

In particular, Derby County and Aston Villa’s 2018/19 EFL Championship Play-Off Final proved to be the perfect stage for some very gifted footballers. The 2-1 result sealed Villa’s return to the top flight after landing a fifth-placed finish after 46 games in the normal season. The Rams on the other hand, sadly lost out on Premier League football that year, but the current Derbyshire side will be hopeful to right that wrong as they return to the Championship next season, following a two-year stint in the third tier.

With the Villains now looking likely to have sealed Champions League football next year, under ex-Arsenal boss Unai Emery, it’s very interesting to see how the starting lineups have adapted from that of a Championship calibre.

Starting off with the goalkeepers, Derby’s Kelle Roos is now performing his trade at Aberdeen and has been since his move from the Rams in June 2022. Jed Steer however, pursued a move to Peterborough United in January 2024 and has made 17 appearances in League One for Posh this season.

There are some big names in both backlines, but a few in particular have since built an impressive resumé. County’s left-back on the day was in fact Chelsea legend, Ashley Cole, who ended his career in Derbyshire shortly after the final. The former England international appeared 12 times, but even his experience wasn’t enough to get the Rams over the line. Cole’s full-back opposite, Jayden Bogle, is currently 23 and is a regular starter for Sheffield United in the Premier League. Richard Keogh could be playing National League football with Forest Green Rovers next season following their relegation from League Two, whereas Fikayo Tomori will be performing in the Champions League and Serie A with AC Milan.

Ahmed Elmohamady currently works for Aston Villa in the club’s commercial department and Neil Taylor is giving management a go for Gulf United FC in United Arab Emirates’ second tier. The Villains’ temporary club captain, Tyrone Mings unfortunately picked up a cruciate ligament injury and has been out all season. The 31-year-old spent the latter half of the 2018/19 season on loan at the Birmingham-based side and has made 150 appearances since joining permanently in July 2019. Axel Tuanzebe is now an important defender for Kieran McKenna’s Premier League-bound Ipswich Town.

Conor Hourihane, who started in midfield for Villa on the day, is conveniently on the books of Derby and joined them in July 2022, having featured in 98 games since. Tom Huddlestone now has a coaching role at Manchester United; he has also played 26 times for their academy side despite being born in 1986. His midfield partner in the County lineup was Bradley Johnson. Johnson is still affiliated with the Rams but he now holds an under-21s coaching position.

Arguably the most impressive careers have stemmed from the Villains’ two attacking-midfielders as well as Derby’s number eight. John McGinn scored a crucial goal in that play-off final and the Scot currently occupies the vacant role of club captain at Villa; the 29-year-old has made 234 appearances so far for the Premier League side. Mason Mount has recently returned from injury to push his way back into the Manchester United lineup following a £55 million move from his boyhood club Chelsea in July 2023. Villa’s past playmaker, Jack Grealish, was a key part in the 2022/23 treble-winning season on the other side of Manchester, with Manchester City. The English winger has almost definitely had the most successful spell since the 2018/19 final.

The Villa wingers on the day, were Albert Adomah – who recently became the all-time Championship appearance-maker with 525 games, and on the other flank, Anwar El Ghazi. The latter has now hung up his boots following his last stint at 1. FSV Mainz 05 in 2023. Derby opted for two Welsh counterparts as their wingers for the clash. Tom Lawrence has been playing Scottish Premiership football for Rangers since his move from the Rams in July 2022, and Harry Wilson is now a key squad player at Fulham, for whom he wears the number eight shirt.

It’s fair to say that Villa’s striker has flourished far more than their opposition’s since the play-off final. County lined up with Mason Bennett spearheading the attack and the 27-year-old has played 34 times in League One for Burton Albion this season, helping them to narrowly avoid relegation. However, Tammy Abraham was the Villains’ key striker on the day and now plays in Italy for Serie A giants, AS Roma. Abraham has scored 37 goals in 113 appearances for the Giallorossi and while minutes have dried up recently, he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

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