Aston Villa are on the cusp of the Championship Play-Off places heading into the final third of the season. Can you summarise the campaign so far…
They started off badly under Steve Bruce; once October arrived it was clear that a change was needed. They decided on Dean Smith, which was the right choice in my eyes, and that gave them a bit of a boost for a while. They picked up a few decent results including away victories against Derby County and Middlesbrough, and they should’ve won at West Bromwich Albion but were robbed by a controversial last-minute goal.
The game at the Hawthorns knocked them out of their stride, which coincided with an injury to Jack Grealish. In the 11 subsequent games, Villa have only won two. They miss Grealish massively but you can’t blame Villa’s poor form solely on his absence because they’ve got enough quality to have picked up more points. The Head Coach needs to look at himself and ask if he’s done anything wrong - should he have played a different system?
They have had a few injuries in defence as well; Axel Tuanzebe has been missing since just before Christmas and that was a big loss because Villa didn’t have a replacement for him at centre-half. Tommy Elphick was out on loan and they were having to play three right-backs across the defence for a couple of games around Christmas and New Year. They’ve just really fallen off the pace and recorded too many draws rather than wins.
At the time of writing, there are just ten points separating 18th-placed Preston North End and sixth-placed Bristol City. Can Villa stand out from the crowd and reach the Play-Offs?
I think so, yes. They’ve got all the top teams still to play at home, except for Leeds United. If they can start winning a couple of games and put a little bit of a run together, it not only improves their own total, they are taking points from the teams above them too. It’s just so cluttered at present and anyone can push on, so I think Villa are confident of getting in there still.
Former Brentford boss Dean Smith has been in charge at Villa Park since October. How has he been received?
When he first came in, he had the full backing of the fans and the people who appointed him. However, as with any manager at any club, if results don’t go their way then questions are asked. There has been a little bit of criticism, purely because Villa haven’t won as many games as the fans expect. I don’t think it’s anything about Smith or that there’s a section of fans that want him out, I think there’s just a little bit of frustration from the supporters because they expect to be winning more games.
How important was it that Villa kept hold of Tammy Abraham in January?
He’s absolutely essential; the most important bit of business that Villa did was keeping hold of him. He’s scored 19 goals already, he’s had plenty of other chances and he’s the leading light for Villa at the moment - the man they turn to in times of need. Villa haven’t had a 20-goal striker since the 80s.
If they get promoted, they’ll definitely try and get him on a permanent deal, but if they stay in the Championship they simply won’t be able to afford him and I don’t think Abraham will want another season in this division, anyway.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
I’m going to go for 2-2 because Villa always struggle at Griffin Park.
For the full chat with Gregg plus an exclusive in-depth interview with Brentford captain Romaine Sawyers, pick up a copy of BEES matchday programme this evening for just £3.50.