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Aston Villa ending another season with everything to play for

By Matt Maher | Aston Villa | Published: | Last Updated:

For the third season running Villa approach the final three matches with everything on the line and knowing only wins will do.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith and assistant John Terry during the Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham. PA Photo. Issue date: Sunday July 12, 2020. See PA story SOCCER Villa. Photo credit should read: Rui Vieira/NMC Pool/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

Boss Dean Smith is hoping for the same outcome as 14 months ago when his team successfully negotiated their way through the play-offs.

The focus now is on ensuring that effort does not go to waste with Villa battling to preserve their hard-won Premier League status.

“It’s pretty much no different to the last three games of last season,” said Smith, who has told his players they are now playing knockout football.

“We know what is at stake, we know the teams we are playing against and we have to be ready for it.”

The analogy is not quite perfect. Villa were beaten over 90 minutes in their play-off semi-final second leg by Albion, while the majority of the players likely to feature over the final week-and-a-half of the campaign were on the club’s books last term.

Yet matching the two wins from three achieved then might well be enough for Villa to escape the drop.

Smith’s team can close the gap to safety to a single point if they win at Everton tonight and for the first time since January they are entering a match on the back of a victory, following Sunday’s vital win over Crystal Palace.

“I think the players have shown they can play under pressure,” he said. “The lads could have been justified if their belief had wavered because we were not getting the results their performances deserved, but they didn’t.

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“We kept going and got what we deserved on Sunday, but we need to maintain that now. We know what is at stake, there is no room for complacency and there won’t be with this squad.”

Everton are playing only for pride after a run of one point from their last three matches ended any hopes of European qualification.

But Smith is not reading too much into the Toffees’ dire and disinterested display in their 3-0 defeat at Wolves last weekend.

“We saw Seamus Coleman’s interview after (the Wolves match) and we certainly expect a reaction,” he said.

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“I’ve concentrated on the three games they have played at Goodison Park which was Liverpool, a goalless draw, Leicester, a 2-1 win, and Southampton, a 1-1 draw.

“So they’ve been tough to beat so far at Goodison Park. It’s a leveller not having supporters there, but we have to go and make sure we put in the sort of performance we did against Crystal Palace.”

In particular, Smith will hope for a similar display from Jack Grealish, after the Villa skipper showed signs of getting back to his best against the Eagles.

Grealish is yet to score or provide an assist since the season resumed.

But it has not been through a lack of effort, with Smith explaining how the 24-year-old reviews every aspect of his own performance.

“Jack will be the first one who tells you everything about his stats. He knows everything about them – more so than even our analysts,” said Smith. “He is that in-depth and in detail about his own performance and has been striving to put in good performances.

“He probably didn’t get to the levels he would have liked to in the first six games, but I can assure you it was not for the want of trying.

“He certainly got there against Crystal Palace and is starting to hopefully get that rhythm back he had before. When you get a player like Jack Grealish in rhythm it is a quality we certainly require.”

Smith continued: “You can’t shield them, it’s out there every day and I would prefer them not to watch a lot of TV and social media. But they do and I can’t police them 24 hours a day. They know what the magnitude is. We hope we’ve given them the tools to cope with the pressure. With the performances I’ve seen so far I would say the only exception has been the second half against Manchester United.

“We’ve talked a lot during lockdown and we’ve come out better for it. We know there is a big task still at hand.”

Matt Maher

By Matt Maher

Chief sports writer for the Express & Star.

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