Smith seeks to stem flow of late goals

Aston Villa’s players have been urged to step up their concentration levels if they are to avoid any more late heartbreak in matches this season.

Villa were on course for a memorable win a week ago, leading 1-0 at home to Premier League leaders Liverpool going into the final few minutes, only to suffer an agonising 2-1 defeat. Seven days previously, Villa went into the break 0-0 at Manchester City, but lost 3-0.

That, however, has been symptomatic of Villa’s performances on their return to the top flight this season as 15 of the 18 goals they have conceded to date have been in the second half, with 10 of those in the closing 20 minutes.

Villa’s late resolve will be tested again when they face midlands rivals Wolves at Molineux on Sunday as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have scored 12 of their 14 goals in the league this season after the break, with eight in the final 20 minutes.

“A lot of those late goals have been against Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool, so top teams in the league,” said manager Dean Smith.

“The goals we’ve given away in the last two games, in particular, against Manchester City and Liverpool, have been pretty much avoidable, and that’s been the disappointing part.

“Whenever a team scores against you, it’s disappointing, so the disappointment grows larger because of the lateness of the goals.

“With Liverpool, that’s down to the amount of time they had the ball, and they kept putting us under pressure. It was pretty relentless at times.

“We’re working on concentration, working on our ball retention because if we’d have kept the ball more in the second half then we wouldn’t have been so tired at the end.

“We know we didn’t have an awful lot of the ball against Liverpool, and probably that was my biggest disappointment, because when we won the ball back, we then gave it away again too cheaply.

“It enabled them to wear us down, physically and mentally, but our play without the ball was as good as it’s been this season.”

After two tough matches against teams Smith claims are “the best in the league, maybe Europe as well, maybe the world”, he is anticipating what he has described as “a chess game” encounter against Wolves.

Although Villa beat Wolves 2-1 at home in the Carabao Cup recently, Smith said: “That was a strange one.

“There were probably 20 changes out of 22 across both teams and although Wolves brought over 5,000 to the game, there was a bit of a subdued atmosphere because of all the changes.

“We comfortably won the game, but it will be very different on Sunday, a very good atmosphere, with two very different teams.

“The styles of play, though, will be similar because they have a way to play, as do we, and it’s going to be a bit of a chess game to see who can get the upper hand. Both teams will want to get the ball and dominate possession.”

Villa skipper Jack Grealish is “50-50”, according to Smith, with a calf injury that forced him to miss the game against Liverpool.