Aston Villa hoping Jack Grealish can fire a new push

Dean Smith believes Villa can reignite their season by beating Fulham tomorrow.

Aston Villa's Jack Grealish scores
Aston Villa's Jack Grealish scores

During his first two campaigns in charge Villa have finished strongly, embarking on a club record 10-match winning run to clinch promotion back to the Premier League in 2019, before last year pulling off a remarkable last-gasp escape from relegation.

Now the boss is hoping for more of the same to ensure a season which for the most part has vastly exceeded expectations does not suffer a somewhat underwhelming conclusion.

Villa host the Cottagers having won just one of their last seven, a run which has, in all likelihood, scuppered chances of qualifying for Europe.

Yet Smith insists there is plenty left to play for and recent history certainly warns against writing his team off just yet.

“In many ways we are in a similar position to where we were last year after the first lockdown,” he said.

“We came back then with 10 games to go and it is the same now. We know there are lots of points out there.

“We have had a good two weeks training and have players coming back from international duty.

“Last season we had John McGinn coming back after lockdown, this time we have Jack Grealish coming back and that will give us a boost, naturally.

“If we can go and put in a good performance against Fulham and get a good result that just ignites the season again and gives everyone that bit of belief. We have 10 big games still to play. We want to finish as high as we can.”

Getting Grealish back after six matches out with a shin injury will lift spirits and Smith will hope for a repeat of two years ago, when the skipper’s return sparked the surge to promotion.

Yet he also knows recent issues with Villa’s attack run a little deeper than merely the absence of their talisman. Even prior to Grealish’s loss, they were struggling to recreate their form from prior to Covid-19 outbreak which increasingly appears as the dividing line in their season.

Villa have won just four out of 13 matches since Bodymoor Heath was closed for 10 days in January but most significantly, have scored only 10 goals. Though Smith insists no players who contracted the disease have felt any lingering health effects, he believes the enforced lay-off did hampered his team’s momentum.

The international break has, therefore, been seen as an opportunity to reset.

“Players who previous to the new year were in form, some of them have come out of form,” said Smith.

“They now have to play their way back in and hopefully that is what this international break has done for us.

“We have had Trezeguet go away and qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt, Bertrand Traore do the same.

“We have John McGinn who scored three goals for Scotland, Ollie Watkins who has scored for England.

“All of a sudden we have players coming back into form and Grealish coming back into the team. That should improve us.”

Fulham appeared relegation certainties when Villa cruised to a 3-0 win at Craven Cottage back in September. Yet Scott Parker has engineered an impressive turnaround to put his team in with a shout of avoiding a second relegation in three seasons.

They enter the weekend still sat in the drop zone but just two points behind 17th-placed Newcastle.

“It will certainly be a very different game,” said Smith. Looking at the last game they played and when we played them earlier in the season, there are only five players who started that game against us.

“It’s going to be very different. I believe they’re a good team. They’ve already made up a great amount of points on the teams above them when it looked they were getting cut adrift.”

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