Dean Smith salutes 'integral' John McGinn with midfielder set for 100th Aston Villa appearance

Dean Smith has saluted John McGinn as the ‘bargain buy’ prepares to make his 100th appearance for Villa.

John McGinn of Aston Villa and Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
John McGinn of Aston Villa and Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Midfielder McGinn will hit the century mark on Friday night when he faces a Newcastle team managed by Steve Bruce, the manager who signed him for Villa from Hibernian for just £2.5million in August 2018.

The deal is arguably the best in Villa’s recent history though it is Smith, who replaced Bruce as boss barely two months later, who has reaped the benefit, with McGinn playing an integral role in the team which has risen from the bottom half of the Championship to the top half of the Premier League.

Bruce was persuaded to move for Scotland international McGinn, who had been heavily tipped to join Celtic, after talking with then Hibs boss Neil Lennon.

Smith said: “It was an absolute snip. I was reading about the story which got him here, Steve’s meeting with Lennie (Lennon).

“Lennie wasn’t to know he was going to be the Celtic manager a few months later!

“We are so pleased Steve signed him for Aston Villa. He has certainly taken that chance and opportunity with both hands and kept progressing.”

In recent weeks McGinn has been the one constant in a Villa midfield where Douglas Luiz, Morgan Sanson, Marvelous Nakamba, Jacob Ramsey and Chelsea loanee Ross Barkley have all shared playing time.

Smith continued: “You only have to look at the fact John has been here under three seasons and is due to make his 100th appearance – and that’s with having had a broken ankle in the middle of that as well.

“It just shows how integral he has been to everything we do at Aston Villa. I have spoken glowingly before about his attitude to football, to life.

“The players adore him in the dressing room – perhaps not so much his patter of banter sometimes – but his attitude to training, to life and football is the reason he has played 100 games, is playing for his country and will be in the Euros. I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

McGinn remains on good terms with Bruce but will be aiming to further raise the pressure on his former boss and Newcastle, who enter the weekend perched just a place and a point above the relegation zone.

The match is also significant for Villa, who have seen their hopes of European qualification hit by a run of just one win in five matches.

That included a defeat to basement boys Sheffield United and having recorded a loss at Burnley and draw at Brighton in the past six weeks, their recent record against teams in the bottom six is one area which requires improvement.

Smith admits Villa’s form both with and without captain Jack Grealish, who is set to be absent for the fifth straight Premier League match with a shin injury, has been indifferent but does not believe they are the only team in the Premier League currently lacking a little rhythm.

Newcastle, beaten 2-0 at Villa Park in the reverse fixture in late January, have won just two of their last 18 matches in all competitions.

Asked about the pressure Bruce finds himself under, Smith replied: “Steve certainly doesn’t need any advice from me.

“I am a young pup compared to the amount of games he has managed – certainly at this level. I have total respect for him.

“You look at where they finished in the league table last season and we would have loved to have been where they were.

“They are one of a number of clubs that, due to Fulham’s results, have been dragged into a battle for relegation looking over their shoulders.

“But with the experience that Steve and his coaching staff have got, I am sure they will pull themselves out of it.

“They will be dangerous opponents, that’s for sure.”

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