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Dean Smith: 'Aston Villa are heading in the right direction'

Dean Smith: 'Aston Villa are heading in the right direction'
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Villa are 10th in the Premier League table with five fixtures to play.

Dean Smith feels Aston Villa have demonstrated their desire for a strong finish to the season with their last two performances.

After drawing 2-2 at home against West Brom on April 25, Villa then won 2-1 at Everton last weekend, registering only their third victory in 12 games.

They are 10th in the Premier League table with five fixtures to play, starting with Sunday's clash with Manchester United at Villa Park.

Villa boss Smith told a press conference: "Our players are (still) chasing things.

"We've felt we've had some inconsistent performances, we lost a little bit of momentum. We want to finish the season well and I think people have seen that with our last two performances. We need to make sure we take that into the next game now.

"Our performance levels have gone up. We played against West Brom and had the most touches we've had in the opposition box since we got promoted. We then went to Everton and was on the front foot, created four or five big chances in the first half of the game and ended up worthy winners.

"We feel like we are going in the right direction again. These last five games, we want to hit those markers of creating big chances and being solid at the back."

While not willing to give specific details, Smith confirmed his team "have a target" for the remainder of the campaign.

"We've got some really good games coming up," Smith said.

"Manchester United, then we have the return against Everton. We have Chelsea last game, Tottenham, Crystal Palace. We've got some really good games to play, and the lads know where they want to finish, how high they want to do it, how well they want to finish.

"Our last two performances have been really good and we want to finish the way we started the season."

United reached the Europa League final on Thursday, while Manchester City and Chelsea are to meet in the Champions League final.

Asked about English clubs doing well in Europe, Smith said: "It certainly inspires us, and it's what the aims of this football club are – to be challenging for European places, whether that be Europa or Champions League. Eventually that's what we want to get to, what our owners want to get to, and the players and myself as well."

Sunday's game is part of a run of four in eight days for United, and Smith said with regard to the Villa Park contest: "I don't think they are going to change the way they play, personnel may change because of the games they've got, but their squad is good enough to rotate.

"I'm more worried that they don't get any penalties against us in this game. We've had a couple of dodgy ones against us in the last couple of games (against United)."

While the match comes too soon for Villa captain Jack Grealish, who has missed the last 11 games due to a shin problem, the midfielder was set to start training with his team-mates again on Saturday.

Morgan Sanson (knee) remains sidelined, with a return to training scheduled for next week, and Trezeguet is also out after damaging his ACL last month.

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Today's Olympic highlights header

Friday's key events

· The athletics schedule begins, with 100m sprinter Dina Asher-Smith among the names in action on the opening day. The men's 10,000m final concludes the action, with Team GB's Sam Atkin and Marc Scott taking part in the absence of 2012 and 2016 champion Sir Mo Farah (1am-2.30pm)

· Victoria Thornley is Team GB's representative in the women's single sculls final (1.33am)
· Great Britain will be going for gold in the men's eight final (2.25am)

· Team GB duo Molly Renshaw and Abbie Wood take part in the women's 200m breaststroke final, but new Olympic record-holder Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa is the hot favourite (2.41am)
· Luke Greenbank has very realistic ambitions of picking up a medal in the men's 200m backstroke final (2.50am)
· There is also British representation in the women's 100m freestyle final, although any medal for Anna Hopkin would be a surprise (2.59am)
· With one gold and one silver already under his belt at these Games, Duncan Scott goes again in the men's 200m individual medley final (3.16am)

· Bryony Page will be looking to repeat her 2016 heroics in the women's event (5am-7.30pm)

· Bradley Forbes-Cryans will be looking to emulate Rio gold medallist Joe Clarke in the men's kayak event (6am-9am)

· The women's tournament enters the quarter-finals, with Great Britain facing Australia at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium (10am)

> Today's schedule in full
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