Gabby Agbonlahor has backed Conor Hourihane to earn a place in the Aston Villa team next season.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, Villa’s record Premier League goalscorer delivered his verdict after the midfielder’s loan spell with Swansea City ended in play-off heartache.

The 30-year-old joined Swansea in January after seeing his opportunities limited at Villa Park and started the 2-0 defeat to Brentford in last weekend’s play-off final.

Football Insider revealed in March Aston Villa chiefs were questioning why Dean Smith sanctioned the move as Villa endured a lean spell with Jack Grealish out injured.

Smith himself admitted to Birmingham Live in January he only allowed Hourihane to exit as he was desperate to play regular football.

Asked whether the Republic of Ireland international will be an Aston Villa player next term, Agbonlahor told Football Insider correspondent Connor Whitley: “I think so.

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“He’s been outstanding for Aston Villa and done well when he’s been at Swansea.

“I think he’ll be back in and around the team. A player like Conor can add so much to the team.

“I’m sure if Dean Smith had his way he wouldn’t have gone out on loan. It’s just because Conor’s so hungry to start games.

“Definitely he’ll be back in the fold in pre-season. Knowing Conor as I do, he’ll be trying to get in contention again and back into the team.”

Hourihane played four Premier League games this season before moving to the Liberty Stadium.

He has scored 29 goals and provided 23 assists in 150 games across all competitions for the Midlands outfit.

In other news, Aston Villa have set their sights on signing a striker from a north-west club and £40million will seal the deal.