Relegation battle rouses Smith as he looks to silence Villa doubters

Boss Dean Smith is revelling in Aston Villa’s relegation dogfight.

Villa travel to Watford on Saturday for the third of their crucial Christmas fixtures.

Boxing Day’s 1-0 win over rock bottom Norwich – just Villa’s second in 10 Premier League games – moved them to within a point of safety.

Hosts Watford are five points behind third bottom Villa and Smith is savouring the battle at the bottom.

He said: “I, perversely, quite enjoy it. I’d rather be fourth in the league and have that pressure but, being third bottom, let’s go and prove people wrong because there are enough doubters around.

“You only have to turn on the TV and the Premier League table is
thrown at you, so you can’t keep away from it.

“I said to the players before the Norwich game, we’ve put a bit of added pressure on ourselves with the losing run but these lads thrive under pressure.

“I just look at the next game. A lot was made about three games on the spin against teams were below us – Southampton, Norwich and now Watford, but everything you get in this league you have to earn.

“So they will be tough to beat. But we want to become tough to beat ourselves.”

Smith worked with Watford skipper Troy Deeney when the pair were at Walsall.

Deeney was in the first team at the Saddlers while Smith was head of youth, although travelled with the senior squad to many away games.

The striker scored in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Manchester United after returning from four months out following knee surgery.

“The biggest compliment I can give him was his attitude was
exemplary when I saw him at Walsall,” said Smith.

“He wanted to work hard, lead the line, to be followed by the others and it looks like he’s become that leader at Watford.

“He’s been there an awful long time and when you’ve been somewhere that amount of time, you’ve got to be doing something right.

“He’s a good guy, I still keep in touch with him. I saw that second goal against Man United and he’s had a really great career.”

Tyrone Mings (hamstring) is out along with John McGinn (fractured ankle) and Jed Steer (Achilles).