Aston Villa battled back from a goal behind to beat west Midlands rivals West Brom 2-1 in the first leg of their Championship play-off semi-final on Saturday.

Dwight Gayle punished Glenn Whelan's clumsy slip to put Albion into an early lead, but in the final 15 minutes a strike from substitute Conor Hourihane and a quickfire Tammy Abraham second from the spot turned the game on its head before Gayle saw red for a second caution.

West Brom finished four points better off than their opponents at the end of the regular season and they started the stronger at Villa Park, taking the lead in the 16th minute through Gayle's strike.

The on-loan striker made the most of some sloppy play from Whelan, charging through on goal and blasting past Jed Steer - who had earlier produced a fine save to keep out Jay Rodriguez's curler.

Villa struggled for attacking ideas in the first half but they looked a lot brighter in the second, coming close through a couple of Abraham attempts.

And the complexion of the tie completely changed in the space of four minutes as Hourihane sent a swerving shot past Sam Johnstone from outside the box and Abraham converted a spot-kick after Kieran Gibbs fouled Jack Grealish.

West Brom had a penalty shout of their own turned down as Mason Holgate took a tumble and, to make matters worse, lost Gayle for the remainder of the match and the second leg to leave Villa in control ahead of Tuesday's return at The Hawthorns.

Mick McCarthy's winning start to his second spell in charge of the Republic of Ireland continued as Conor Hourihane's free-kick earned them a 1-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Georgia.

Aston Villa midfielder Hourihane's exquisite effort – Ireland's first goal on home soil in four matches – ensured McCarthy's side made it two wins from two in the campaign.

Hourihane's maiden international goal was the least Ireland deserved on McCarthy's Dublin return, with Jeff Hendrick having an effort disallowed for offside in the second half - though they were ultimately fortunate to survive when Jaba Kankava's late effort from range struck a post. 

The victory lifted Ireland onto six points from their opening two Group D fixtures, and they sit top, ahead of favourites Switzerland after they drew 3-3 with Denmark.

Hourihane would have capped a bright Ireland start if not for a fine save by Giorgi Loria, while David McGoldrick drilled wide.

A reported fan protest against the FAI looked to have been avoided, but play had to be paused just after the half-hour mark when tennis balls were thrown onto the pitch.

But the fans' frustration soon turned to delight – Hourihane picking out the left-hand corner with a pinpoint strike immediately after play had restarted.

Hendrick thought he had doubled Ireland's advantage 13 minutes into the second half, only for the offside flag to cut his celebrations short.

McGoldrick looked set to wrap the win up soon after, but having rounded Loria, he failed to keep the ball in play.

Ireland were almost made to pay for their profligacy with five minutes remaining, the post coming to their rescue from Kankava's wicked long-range strike.

 

What does it mean? McCarthy has Ireland on the up

Ireland had grown stale under previous boss Martin O'Neill and his assistant Roy Keane, and while McCarthy is not a long-term appointment – he is set to be replaced by Stephen Kenny after Euro 2020 – he managed to get a tune out of his side on Tuesday following an unconvincing display in the win over Gibraltar.

Hourihane off the mark in style

The Aston Villa midfielder has always been capable of the spectacular, but up until Tuesday had not managed to bring his goal-scoring exploits to the international stage. He marked his first Ireland goal in some fashion to cap an impressive individual performance.

Toothless Georgia little threat

Vladimir Weiss set up his Georgia side to frustrate their hosts, and while they were solid enough, a lack of attacking intent – or quality – meant Ireland's defence had little cause for concern until Kankava's thunderous effort late on.

What's next?

Denmark featured in the Republic of Ireland's Nations League group, and they are their next opponents in qualifying. Georgia, meanwhile, host Gibraltar.

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