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Dean Smith confident Aston Villa will avoid relegation as he looks to engineer another escape act

By Matt Maher | Aston Villa | Published:

Dean Smith remains confident Villa will escape relegation and when you consider his own history it is perhaps easy to understand why.

Dean Smith wants Jack Grealish to be involved further up the pitch.

Should the boss’ prediction come true and Villa fight their way out of the drop zone over the season’s final six matches, it would still be a long way from the most extraordinary achievement of his coaching career.

That remains the escape act he conjured at Walsall in 2011 having been flung into his first managerial role with the Saddlers eight points adrift of safety at the foot of League One.

“Every day you’re drawing on experiences you’ve had,” said Smith. “We were eight points adrift and the following season was a battle as well and we managed to come through that by being a team that was together.

“You could say it wasn’t as big (as now) but for me at that time it was. I’ve still not been relegated as a manager and I don’t expect to be this season either.”

Villa entered the weekend 18th in the table just a point behind Watford and Smith continued: “We are not adrift. This is a six-team battle. Only two of the teams in the bottom six have won (since restart) and both were in the last minute. We’re all battling for points.”

All that said, if Villa are to stand a chance of surviving – or pulling off arguably the shock of the season at Liverpool tomorrow – they will need to improve a goal return which has seen them find the net just twice in the last six matches.

Smith, who claims to feel under no more pressure than when he first took the job back in October 2018, admitted discussions had taken place with Jack Grealish this week about getting the skipper involved higher up the pitch.

He explained: “I felt Jack was going deeper to get on the ball against Wolves. He managed to have a shot in the game, but he needs to be higher up the pitch to hurt opposition players.

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“That’ll be hard against Liverpool, but that’s what we require from him and feel that’s when he’s at his best as well.”

Smith, meanwhile, remained tight-lipped over whether he is planning a change in goal, with Orjan Nyland having appeared vulnerable over the last four matches. The Norway international was fortunate to escape embarrassment after errors against both Sheffield United and Wolves.

Pepe Reina, who returns to the club where he made 285 consecutive Premier League appearances, is the back-up.

Asked whether he was planning a change, Smith replied: “If I am I’ll keep that between me and the goalkeepers. Orjan has played the last four games and we’ve conceded four goals in those games.

“Yes, he made a mistake against Wolves and fortunately we didn’t get punished. But he’s been relatively well protected by a good defensive display so we’ll have to wait and see.”

Matt Maher

By Matt Maher

Chief sports writer for the Express & Star.

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