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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish scores winning goal after being punched by Birmingham fan

'There's rivalry and stuff in football but I don't think there's any place for that in football'

Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish was punched in the face by a pitch invader during their 1-0 victory at derby rivals Birmingham City in the English Championship on Sunday.

The supporter ran on to the pitch at St Andrew's and made a beeline for Grealish, who did not see him coming, before landing a punch to the side of his face.

Grealish fell to the turf as a steward and Villa players Glenn Whelan and Tammy Abraham caught the man and dragged him away from the spot.

The Villa captain got to his feet a few seconds later, apparently unhurt, and the match continued after stewards and security personnel had ushered the man, seen blowing kisses to the crowd, off the pitch.

A man was arrested and will appear in court on Monday charged with encroachment on to the pitch and assault.

"There's rivalry and stuff in football but I don't think there's any place for that in football," Grealish told Sky Sports after the match.

Grealish had the last laugh after his second-half goal gave Villa all three points to allow them to leapfrog their Midlands rivals and move up to ninth in the standings, a point ahead of Birmingham.

"I just tried to get on with my job really and I think I did. It's the best day of my life; to come here for the first time as Villa captain and score the winner is what dreams are made of," Grealish added.

Birmingham City apologised to Grealish and Aston Villa and said the supporter would be banned from the stadium for life.

"We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St Andrew's for life," the club said in a statement.

"The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law ... What happened has no place in football or society."

The English Football League (EFL) condemned the actions of the supporter, promising to work with the relevant parties to address the issue and take appropriate action.

"It's a situation no player should ever be faced with," the EFL said in a statement.

"In all circumstances the playing surface is for players, not supporters, and those playing in the game must be able to do so safe in the knowledge they will not be subjected to this type of behaviour."

There is a long history of animosity between Birmingham and Villa supporters, with outbreaks of serious violence in the streets marring many of the "second city" derby encounters.

There was fighting between rival gangs before Sunday's match, with police having to hold back fans while at least one man was seen being treated by paramedics after suffering a head wound.

Fanning the flames further, Grealish is a boyhood Villa fan and once turned down a chance to join Birmingham on loan when he was a youngster, reportedly saying: "I'm not going there".

In 2002, a Birmingham fan was jailed for four months after running onto the pitch at St Andrew's to taunt then Villa goalkeeper Peter Enckelman, who had just conceded a bizarre own goal when he let a backpass roll under his foot into the net.

The supporter made an obscene gesture in Enckelman's face and slapped his cheek.

Updated: March 11, 2019 11:03 AM

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