Wolves v Aston Villa: Dean Smith eager to take a break on a high note
Villa head to Wolves tomorrow aiming for a victory which would both earn bragging rights and allow boss Dean Smith to enjoy the international break.
A fortnight away from the action will allow plenty of time for reflection and much of how the first 12 matches of Villa’s season are perceived will rest on the result at Molineux, writes Matt Maher.
The visitors, just like the hosts, are among a cluster of clubs who could end the weekend positioned anywhere between 10th and 17th in the table.
A victory, or even a draw, would leave Villa with plenty of positives on which to reflect after a testing few weeks that saw them earn plaudits but no points from meetings with Manchester City and Liverpool.
Defeat, on the other hand, would leave Smith with ample time to dwell on a three-match losing streak in the league.
“I think with a win we could leapfrog about six or seven clubs, such is the compactness of the table from sixth all the way down to 17th,” he said.
“It is a really tight league and I think we have been very competitive in each game we have played. We will continue to be that and hopefully give Wolves a challenge.
“It wasn’t nice, the first international period, which we went into on the back of a controversial defeat at Crystal Palace. The next one we entered having won 5-1 at Norwich.
“Hopefully, we can learn from the last one. I am sure it won’t be a 5-1 but hopefully we can get a win.”
It is fair to say a win tomorrow would represent Villa’s best result of the season to date.
In order to achieve it, they may need to flip a narrative which currently has them characterised as a team who struggle to hold an advantage.
To date, Villa have conceded 15 of the 18 goals they have conceded in the second half of matches, including seven in the final 10 minutes. Only Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City have led for longer in the Premier League than Smith’s men.
Wolves, by contrast, have scored 85 per cent of their goals in the second half, while no team in the division has led for a shorter amount of time (82 minutes) than tomorrow’s hosts. Yet they have still managed to collect two more points than Villa.
“The late goals we have conceded have been against Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, some of the top teams in the league,” said Smith.
“The goals we have given away in the last couple of games have been avoidable, which is the most disappointing part.
“Whenever a team scores against you it is disappointing. I guess that grows a bit larger with the lateness of the goals.
“We are working on our concentration and working on our ball retention because if we had kept the ball a lot more in the second half, particularly against Liverpool, we would not have been so tired in the end. The nature of sport and the nature of football is that the most goals will be scored in the final 10 minutes of any game.”
Smith has nothing but admiration for the job Nuno has done in transforming Wolves from mid-table Championship also-rans into a team now looking to challenge the Premier League’s elite.
Villa’s boss has also been impressed with the way in which Wolves have dealt, so far, with the added distraction of the Europa League.
A seventh-placed finish on their Premier League return has undoubtedly provided encouragement to Villa as they now look to re-establish themselves in the top flight.
“You can only have admiration for what they have done, finishing seventh last season and qualifying for the Europa League,” said Smith. “It is going to be a very tough game for us, but it is one we are looking forward to.
“You are always trying to improve and you can look no further than Wolves for what they have done. We will do it differently and we have done it differently.
“Each club is unique to its own values and fundamentals the owners set. Our way is different to Wolves. We will go our own way and keep improving as a football club.
“Wolves have not shown any signs of tiredness in the Premier League matches following Europa games that I have seen so far. Here’s hoping tomorrow is the one where they do feel a bit tired!”