Dean Smith believes Ollie Watkins has the potential to be a goalscoring great for Aston Villa

Dean Smith claims Ollie Watkins has the potential to emulate Villa’s great goalscorers of the past.

The £28million club record signing will go in search of his first Premier League goal when Smith’s team travel to Fulham on Monday evening.

European Cup-winner Peter Withe is the last Villa forward to score 20 in a top flight campaign but Smith believes in Watkins he has a player who can one day rank among the division’s best.

He said: “It’s a tough league to go and score goals in and we all know that.

“Normally the top strikers come from the top four teams and have done over recent years, but in Ollie we believe there’s a player who can score an awful lot of goals.

“We’ve seen it with the players at Aston Villa, with Christian Benteke, Peter Withe and Alan McInally, people like that.

“There are a lot of Aston Villa fans who are waiting for that player who’s going to score the goals.

“We were hopeful it was going to be Wesley and he was on the right road to doing that until he got injured and hopefully Ollie can go and do that as well.”

Watkins, who scored 26 goals for Brentford in the Championship last season, has netted two goals in the early rounds of the Carabao Cup for Villa.

Smith believes the 24-year-old’s mentality will allow him to cope with the level of expectation on his shoulders.

The boss continued: “I think it’s really important. There were times last season when I felt I had to come out and support Wesley, whereas in the dressing room, we were more than happy with his contribution.

“I think the same now – if a forward goes a couple of games without scoring, it’s not the end of the world in this league.

“We expect them to be good, we expect them to work hard, but to expect them to score goals in every game is sometimes a hard thing to do.

“Everyone who comes to Aston Villa and is a centre-forward will have pressure on them straight away.

“They understand that but some people can thrive on that pressure and he’s certainly one I believe who can.

“I think it’s the all-round athleticism as well. Some of the numbers he produces with his running stats are incredible.

“It’s that sheer mentality he’s got – he walked off the pitch at Bristol City after 20 minutes and scored one because he was furious with himself that he didn’t score three. That’s the sort of player I want at the club.”

Villa head to Craven Cottage aiming to open a Premier League campaign with back-to-back wins for the first time since 1999.

England assistant boss Steve Holland is expected to be in attendance to cast his eye over Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings ahead of the squad announcement later this week.

The hosts, who were promoted through the play-offs, have lost both of their opening two fixtures and Smith has empathy with opposing boss Scott Parker.

“I have been there last season,” he said. “You get promoted through the play-offs and you have the shortest time to prepare for the Premier League.

“They have had a tough start in the league, Arsenal at home and Leeds away, though I thought they played quite well in the latter.

“Scott knows all about this division. He played in it long enough and he knows there are certain games he will be looking at to try and get points and Monday’s game will be among them.

“It will be a difficult place to go, as always, but we feel we’re in decent form at the moment and very tough to beat.”

Bjorn Engels returned to training over the weekend following a thigh strain and could feature in a Villa squad for the first time since March, while Smith is likely to hand Bertrand Traore his Premier League debut for the club.

Wesley and goalkeeper Tom Heaton are the two remaining long-term absentees.

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