Dean Smith aiming to "exorcise demons" as Aston Villa return to Leicester

On Sunday night Dean Smith will aim to follow up the greatest victory of his Villa reign to date at the venue for one of his worst defeats.

Though Smith still points to a 3-0 defeat at Wigan in January 2019 as the lowest point of his time in charge, things have never looked bleaker than after the 4-0 hammering at Leicester last March, which left the head coach and his team seemingly staring down the barrel.

Trudging off the field at the King Power Stadium, Villa appeared an outfit doomed to relegation and Smith a man running short of ideas and time.

Then came lockdown and a three-month break which provided the time for Villa to reorganise before pulling off a remarkable escape from the drop, the momentum of which has continued into a new season in which they boast a perfect record and have just thumped Liverpool 7-2.

“It turned out to be a watershed moment,” said Smith, recalling the Leicester defeat yesterday. “It was the way we felt sorry for ourselves in the final 15 minutes of that game, conceding two sloppy goals, which concerned me most.

“But then we went into lockdown and managed to return to form after that.

“Momentum is key. There is an awful lot of belief in the team.

“But if you want to be talked about in glowing terms you have to maintain that. We have a really tough game now where we want to exorcise some demons from last season.”

This is a fixture with no shortage of storylines, from the presence of former Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare in the Villa dugout, to the question of whether the visitors can find a way to stop Jamie Vardy, the striker who scored four goals in two Premier League matches against them last term.

Yet it is impossible not to be drawn back to the turnaround at Villa since the clubs last met.

Smith insists he never feared the sack but there is no question his position had rarely looked weaker. Now seven months on, having just recorded one of the greatest results in the club’s modern history, it has never seemed stronger.

“The turnaround is perhaps not all that dramatic considering the timeframe involved, with lockdown, Project Restart and starting again this season,” said Smith.

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring

“But I always felt our players would be better, the fitter they have got. I feel we have added genuine quality to that now. We feel a good team.

“We’re tougher to beat. Defensively, from the front, our work rate and work ethic without the ball. And that’s down to fitness issues as well that we were able to deal with during the lockdown. It’s certainly improved us.

“I’ve never worried about getting the sack or losing my job at any club I’ve worked for.

“The way football works, you can win seven games on the spin and lose your job, you can lose seven on the spin. I’m not in control of that so I’ve never worried about it.”

Smith admits it was not until the morning after that the magnitude of the 7-2 win over Liverpool properly started to sink in.

Villa enter the weekend sat second in the table but the boss does not believe his team are at risk of becoming complacent.

“We have legs and quality in the team, when you have both of those you have a chance to go and win every game you play in,” he said.

“After the performance and result against Liverpool, if you can’t gain confidence and belief from that then you never will.

“We have to make sure we quash that word complacency and make sure we go and perform on Sunday.

“We have momentum going with us and the players should thrive on that.”

Defender Bjorn Engels could feature in a Villa squad for the first time since March’s defeat at the King Power Stadium after recovering from injury. Goalkeeper Tom Heaton and striker Wesley (both knee) remain out.

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