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Dean Smith urges Aston Villa to finish season "as well as we started it"

Dean Smith urges Aston Villa to finish season
© Reuters
Villa have won just two of their last 10 Premier League matches.

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith is looking for his team to finish the season strongly, beginning with Sunday's derby clash against West Brom.

Villa made their best start to a campaign for 90 years, winning their first four Premier League matches, and until recently were challenging for the European places.

December's 3-0 victory at The Hawthorns in the reverse fixture underlined their claim to be one of the division's most entertaining sides.

However, a run of just two wins in 10 matches has seen those European hopes fade and a season that promised so much is in danger of becoming characterised by frustration.

Sunday's game at Villa Park represents the latest chance for Smith's side to rediscover some rhythm and prevent the campaign from fizzling out.

"I have been frustrated with an awful lot of the games," admitted Smith. "But I think it has just been a really tough part of the season for everyone.

"There doesn't seem to be an awful lot of rhythm. A lot of teams have had an awful lot of injuries to key players."

"But we have just faced probably the best team in the world (Manchester City) at the moment and come very close to getting something out of it, so we can't be too hard on ourselves."

Villa have undoubtedly suffered in the absence of captain and talisman Jack Grealish, who will miss a ninth successive league game on Sunday.

The 25-year-old remains sidelined with the shin problem that saw him withdrawn from training on February 18 on the eve of the home defeat to Leicester.

In his absence Villa have scored just eight goals and Smith said: "The offensive side is what has dropped off, probably since the Covid break to be honest, even with Jack in the team.

"A few players have been trying to recapture the form they had before – Bertrand Traore, Anwar El Ghazi, Ollie Watkins have not been scoring as freely – but it is not for the want of trying.

"I have said many times my teams normally finish seasons well and I expect them to do so again this season.

"West Brom need to go and win to give them a chance of staying up and we need to go and win to make sure we finish this season as well as we started it."

Villa, who have lost three of their last four matches, are looking to secure their first league double over the Baggies since the 2008/09 season.

But Smith knows his side will come up against a much-changed West Brom team to the one they outplayed in December, which marked Sam Allardyce's first game in charge.

"A team who goes to Chelsea and wins 5-2, then you know they've certainly improved, so it'll be a different West Brom to what we faced at The Hawthorns earlier in the season," said Smith.

"But we have to concentrate on ourselves, the players know the importance of getting back to winning ways and finishing the season well."

While Grealish remains out, Wesley could make his long-awaited return for Villa on Sunday.

The Brazilian striker has been out since rupturing knee ligaments in January 2020 but last week played just over an hour for the under-23 side and he may be included in the matchday squad.

Matty Cash is suspended following his red card in the defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday night.

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West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper Sam Johnstone pictured in October 2020
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Olympic medal table header
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ChinaChina34241674
United StatesUnited States29352791
JapanJapan22101446
AustraliaAustralia1751941
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Today's Olympic highlights header

Friday's key events


HOCKEY
· Great Britain's women aim to secure their place on the podium as they face India in the bronze medal match (2.30am)
· Netherlands - silver medallists five years ago - and Argentina battle for the gold medal in the women's final (11am)

BEACH VOLLEYBALL
· The women's gold medal will be decided as Australia and USA go head to head (3.30am)

BOXING
· Lauren Price will be looking to add to Team GB's success in the ring when she takes on Nouchka Fontijn of Netherlands in the women's middleweight semi-final (6am)

DIVING
· Tom Daley already has one Olympic gold to his name in Tokyo, and he begins his bid for second in the men's 10m platform. Teammate Noah Williams is also involved in the preliminary round (7am)

CYCLING
· Jason Kenny's reign as sprint king may be over, but Jack Carlin looked strong in his bid to succeed his compatriot. He takes on Harrie Lavreysen in his sprint semi-final (8.10am), with the final taking place later in the day (10.35am)
· The women's madison makes its Olympic debut at the velodrome as Team GB duo Katie Archibald and Laura Kenny look to add another medal to their collections (9.15am)

FOOTBALL
· Hosts Japan will look to get themselves on the podium as they face Mexico in the men's bronze medal match (10am)
· The women's champions will be crowned as both Sweden and Canada aim to win Olympic gold for the very first time (1pm)

ATHLETICS
· The men's 5000m final includes Great Britain's Andrew Butchart, but most eyes will be on Ugandan world record holder Joshua Cheptegei (1pm)
· Team GB's Jodie Williams will hope to get on the podium in the women's 400m final, but defending champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo is favourite for gold while Stephenie Ann McPherson should challenge and Allyson Felix is bidding to become the most decorated female track and field athlete of all time (1.35pm)
· Netherlands' Sifan Hassan takes on leg two of her ambitious attempt at a Tokyo treble in a women's 1500m final which also includes Great Britain's Laura Muir and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya (1.50pm)
· A star-studded women's 4x100m relay final will see a Team GB quartet including Dina Asher-Smith look to upset defending champions USA and favourites Jamaica, who boast Elaine Thompson-Herah as she goes for her third gold of the Games (2.30pm)
· Great Britain and Jamaica will also be going for gold in the men's 4x100m relay final, and their medal hopes have been boosted by USA's failure to qualify (2.50pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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