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Smith making positive Villa impact despite defensive concerns - Interview
Monday, 31st Dec 2018 13:06 by Clive Whittingham

We’re very grateful to Ryan Pitcher from the Heart of the Holte website for giving us some lowdown on our New Year’s Day opponent Aston Villa over the holiday weekend.

How would you assess Aston Villa’s season so far?

Getting better. It's such a shame Dean Smith didn't get a full pre-season with this group of players. I have no doubt that had he come in over the summer months then Villa would be up there or certainly a lot closer to the automatic promotion places than we are now.

How has Dean Smith done so far – good and bad?

Going forward we're excellent. Constantly probing away, asking questions and scoring goals. Overall there's just so much more energy and it has been a real breath of fresh air.

Defensively we've been frail all season and that comes from our lack of quality at full-back position (especially on the left-side). A lack of depth and not enough competition for places is another reason as to why we've been poor and I also think it took a while for the penny to drop that we can't just have three players in the middle roaming about all over the place without one of them at least taking responsibility for shielding the back-line.

You seemed well in control against Leeds over Christmas only to lose 3-2 – Smith’s Brentford were notorious for losing points from winning positions. Any worries there or hint of that creeping in at Villa or just one of those days?

Don't be fooled by the half-time scoreline. I'll tell you now that we were never in control of that game. Leeds were incredibly unlucky to be going in 2-0 down at the halfway stage as they bossed it for large parts and carried a real threat (as we saw in the second half). Being two goals to the good and coming away with nothing is always tough to take. We were just beaten by the better side on the day.

Jack Grealish out with a shin injury – would shin pads maybe be an idea once he’s back?

The amount of times Jack gets taken week-in-week-out out; he'll have to come back as Iron Man to stand any chance of lasting until May! In all seriousness though, despite being a little bit off the pace earlier in the season, Grealish is a big player for us and the sooner he's back in the better off we will be.

Stand out players and weak links in the team?

John McGinn is a vital cog in the middle of the park for us. I'm unsure of the life that he's lived but he's come down from Scotland over the summer battle-hardened. A tenacious little creature whose energy levels are as second-to-none. I love a player who leaves it all out there on the pitch and he's one of those types. He can pick a pass too.

Tammy Abraham has impressed me too. Not just because of his goals but with his work rate and desire. His facial expressions tell a thousand words - you can tell just how much winning really means to him.

As for weak links: well I think it has been well publicised as to how poor we've been defensively this season. Until we can bring some more bodies in it's a little bit makeshift and so our opposite number should be looking to exploit those vulnerabilities.

Any suggestions of transfer activity, either in or out, in January? Any names mentioned?

Giant Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic has penned a deal with us from Gent and will be a Villa player from 1st January (although I very much doubt he'll be between the sticks for our match on New Year’s Day).

We need at least one more centre-back what with Tuanzebe out. Tommy Elphick could be recalled from his loan spell at Hull, whilst also being heavily linked to Yoann Barbet from Dean Smith's former club Brentford. Barbet is equally adept playing centrally or as a left-back, which would be handy as we're also desperately short in that position as well.

Will you win promotion this season and what are the consequences, particularly around finance and FFP, if you don’t?

I think we can. We really can't afford to drop many points if we want to finish in that top two which still remains the aim but I do think most Villains see the lottery of the play-offs as the most likely scenario.

If we go up then it's happy days but nobody - not even the experts - quite know what's going to happen should we remain in the Championship for a fourth consecutive season. It really is anyone's guess. Should we be handed down a punishment from the EFL then it's highly unlikely the club will take it lying down and will probably exhaust all of the appeal routes - even if it is just to waste time so that we can best prepare for all possible eventualities. For example, a transfer embargo would be bad for us because we've plugged a fair few gaps with loan signings and that'll need to be looked at again over the summer months.

The Twitter @RyanPitcher, @HeartOfTheHolte, @loftforwords

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TacticalR added 00:25 - Jan 1
Thanks to Ryan.

The experience of Villa since relegation has shown that Xia's hubris was misplaced and nothing can be taken for granted in the Championship. It sounds like Dean Smith has some work to do to get Villa firing on all cylinders.
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