Smith expects Grealish to shine in Villa’s relegation battle

Boss Dean Smith backed Jack Grealish to thrive in Aston Villa’s tense relegation battle after a crucial victory over Norwich.

Conor Hourihane’s second-half strike sealed a 1-0 win and lifted Villa to within a point of safety ahead of Saturday’s key trip to Watford.

They were forced to survive long spells of pressure from the Canaries – who missed several clear chances – but clung on for just a second win in 10 Premier League games.

Captain Grealish again shone for Villa, setting up Hourihane, and Smith expects the midfielder to only improve.

He said: “He can get better still. There’s still more to come.

“This is his highest goalscoring season of his career and he’s starting to make a lot more assists now and he’s doing it at the top table, so there’s certainly more to come.

“He thrives on pressure though. I spoke to them before the game and I said we’ve actually put ourselves under more pressure with our recent performances.

“We lost one of our best players in John McGinn, but Jack showed what he is all about.

Aston Villa v Norwich City – Premier League – Villa Park
Villa’s Jack Grealish (right) and Norwich’s Max Aarons (left) battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Villa Park.

“With our recent results and performances, today I asked for three things from the players, attitude, application and enthusiasm. We got that and they showed a lot of character.”

Norwich wasted the chances they had, although Alex Tettey was denied by a brilliant goal-line clearance from Douglas Luiz in the second half.

Sam Byram hit the bar in the first half and also nodded inches wide after the break while Tom Trybull was thwarted by Tom Heaton and the goalkeeper’s reaction stop denied Onel Hernandez a late leveller.

Aston Villa v Norwich City – Premier League – Villa Park
Norwich  manager Daniel Farke was unhappy with a throw-in in the build-up to Villa’s winner.

But Villa completed the double over Norwich, after a 5-1 win at Carrow Road in October, when substitute Hourihane swept in from 16 yards after 64 minutes.

The Canaries’ survival hopes are already looking slim with the club bottom and seven points from safety after a 10th defeat in 14 games.

But boss Daniel Farke was unhappy with the officials and felt they incorrectly awarded Villa a throw in in the build up to the goal

He said: “The situation was clear, (Ezri) Konsa played the ball over the line and we had the throw in but perhaps the only two people in the stadium who got the decision wrong were the assistant referee and fourth official.

“We have to be a bit more switched on in this situation, I will speak to my players.

“But this wasn’t a small mistake, it was an unbelievable mistake for this level.

“To have the outcome (from their last three games) with just one point feels like a joke. Football can be cruel sometimes. The main mistake wasn’t in our hands.

“It’s confidence-killing for the players because they deliver top class performances but don’t get their rewards. It’s important not to be too addicted to the result or the table.

“We are the biggest underdogs in the whole league and for that we will keep going.”

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