On the day he committed to his boyhood club, there was something irrepressible about Jack Grealish.
Showing once again why Aston Villa were so desperate to keep hold of their captain, he seemed to be involved in absolutely everything as the Premier League club eventually broke down stubborn Burton.
The League One side came within two minutes of taking their illustrious visitors to penalties but Grealish – and it wasn’t ever going to be anyone else – had other ideas.
Jack Grealish celebrated his new £135,000-a-week deal by inspiring Carabao Cup comeback
BURTON ALBION (4-2-3-1): Sharman-Lowe; Fox, Brayford (c) (Gallacher 25), Bostwick, Wallace; Quinn, Edwards (Powell 66); Akins, Lawless (Gilligan 66), Daniel; Hemmings
Subs not used: Garratt (GK); Anderson, Hewlett, Williams
Player-Manager: Jake Buxton
Goalscorers: Daniel 2
Booked: Akins, Quinn
ASTON VILLA (4-3-3): Nyland; Elmohamady, Hause, Mings, Taylor; J. Ramsey (Douglas Luiz 71), Nakamba, Lansbury; El Ghazi (Jota 80), Watkins (Davis 71), Grealish (c)
Goalscorers: Watkins 39, Grealish 88, Davis 90+2
Subs not used: Steer (GK); Guilbert, Konsa, Samatta
Manager: Dean Smith
His sweet edge-of-the-box volley from Henri Lansbury’s corner – controlled and struck hard into the ground – to win it again demonstrated the class of a player whose new five-year deal will net him £135,000-a-week.
‘It’s been a good day and a good few weeks for myself, topped off by this game,’ said Grealish, who received his first England cap earlier this month.
‘I decided I wanted to stay after a chat with the owners and the manager. I’ve always wanted to stay, really. It’s Villa, it’s close to me and my family.
‘It was done within 24 hours and was an easy one. I am delighted to have signed it.
‘There was certain stuff the owners, the chief executive [Christian Purslow] and the manager have said to me about their ambitions for the season. It persuaded me to get this over and done with.’
That wasn’t Grealish’s only contribution here – far from it. Stunned when Colin Daniel fired Burton ahead after just 64 seconds, Villa made their weight of possession pay six minutes before half-time when club record £28m signing Ollie Watkins opened his account on debut.
Grealish had been involved in that goal and when Villa needed someone to spare them from potential embarrassment, he answered the call just in time. Keinan Davis made sure of victory with an assured finish in stoppage time.
The Aston Villa captain fired home a volley from the edge-of-the-box in the 88th minute
‘It is a massive statement of intent from the football club and the owners,’ Villa manager Dean Smith said. ‘Jack is talismanic in what he means to Villa and it is a big boost to the dressing room.
‘I couldn’t control the speculation that was around Jack but we didn’t have one bid for him and you can only act when people come in for him.’
Smith attempted to insulate Villa against any shock result by fielding essentially his strongest team with Grealish partnering club record signing Watkins and Anwar El Ghazi in attack.
But the Brewers have left several Premier League opponents punch drunk in this competition in recent seasons and it didn’t take long for Villa, who lost here at this stage two years ago, to fall into an ambush.
Tyrone Mings headed sideways to Neil Taylor, whose clearance was blocked by a leaping Ryan Edwards. The next thing, Edwards had zipped a cross to the back post and Daniel stormed in unnoticed to lash into the roof of the net. The clock read just 64 seconds.
Ollie Watkins scored his first goal for Aston Villa from close range in the 39th minute
It was the left-back’s first goal in 52 appearances for Burton which came as a surprise given a finish that had all the assuredness of a seasoned striker.
Unsurprisingly, the League One side dropped back but Villa’s play was ponderous for a while, the quality of the final pass lacking.
Grealish at one point skipped forward 30 yards through the middle but ignored the obvious pass into El Ghazi to go it alone and saw his shot blocked.
The England man’s duel with Burton right-back Ben Fox was a fascinating sub-plot, a meeting of trendy hairstyles. Fox absolutely clattered Grealish early on to send a signal there would be no tolerating any trickery or nonsense.
But after an El Ghazi snapshot from the edge of the box flew wide, Grealish wouldn’t be denied and he played a key role as last season’s finalists equalised.
Collecting a pass in that familiar wide left position, Grealish attracted three Burton players like a magnet yet somehow managed to slip the under-lapping Taylor in.
Watkins missed a great chance to score his second goal after being set up by Grealish
Substitute Keinan Davis sealed the Carabao Cup victory with third goal in stoppage time
Taylor was so taken aback the pass had been threaded through he initially didn’t realise he had it but then had the present of mind to cross low into Watkins.
The £28million summer arrival from Brentford couldn’t have wished for a simpler finish for his first competitive goal in Villa colours.
Mings sent a scuffed volley wide as half-time approached and Villa really should have led in stoppage time.
Again, inevitably, it was Grealish involved as he skinned Fox on the byline and laid the ball on a plate for Watkins in the middle. The forward’s left-footed strike clattered the crossbar.
For all their defending, Burton did occasionally pose a threat on the break. This being their fourth competitive game of the nascent season, they did have a snap and sharpness.
Late in the first-half, Edwards curled an effort narrowly wide of the post with Villa keeper Orjan Nyland diving to make sure. And just after the break, Kane Hemmings broke clear to fire across goal.
Defender Colin Daniel fired Burton ahead after just 64 seconds against Aston Villa
But the direction of travel was largely towards Burton’s goal with Grealish arrowing in a cross that ended up more closely resembling a shot.
Such was the Villa captain’s need to influence matters he was, at one point, the closest player on his side to keeper Nyland as he tried to spur a move from deep. Moments later he was clipped on the heel by Lucas Akins, who was booked.
Burton keeper Teddy Sharman-Lowe, just 17 and on loan from Chelsea, was sharp to deny a Watkins header but the Villa man was standing offside.
Smith threw on Douglas Luiz, Keinan Davis and then Jota to freshen things up and the latter whipped a shot just over the bar late on.
But Villa wouldn’t be denied. Grealish scored his brilliant second from Henri Lansbury’s corner and Davis was sprung free to curl home the third.
‘We ran out of steam towards the end after a lot of effort,’ said Burton boss Jake Buxton. ‘We expected after signing a five-year deal he might have a little rest but he has tremendous quality and will hurt you.’