After three years in charge, Dean Smith’s run as Aston Villa manager has come to an end. A string of underwhelming results has seen Villa thrust into the relegation zone.
Since their promotion back to the Premier League, the club certainly divided opinion. From the error in the goal decision system against Sheffield United which kept them in the league, the Villains were able to turn their poor initial form around and hang on to their top flight status by the skin of their teeth — finishing in an impressive 11th place the year after.
In a way, Villa are victims of their own success. From massively underachieving despite spending lots of money in their initial Premier League campaign, to overachieving in their second, largely down to the form of talisman and captain Jack Grealish, who departed the Midlands outfit over the summer for a record breaking £100 million move to current champions Manchester City.
You get the feeling that Dean Smith was really starting to build something at Villa. The club may have lost their Carabao Cup final to City but they had a capable side which was depleted massively in Grealish’s absence, now almost having to start from scratch. At the beginning of the season there was always going to be questions asked of Smith’s ability to coach without his captain and if the new signings he made ticked the right boxes.
Danny Ings arrived subtly from Southampton in one of the best kept secrets in transfer window history, whilst tricky winger Leon Bailey came in from Bayer Leverkusen alongside Emi Buendía to perhaps compensate for that lack of creativity in the final third. Still, Smith kept hold of Ollie Watkins and with Tyrone Mings only featuring sporadically for England at the Euros, things looked good on paper — but the results haven’t reflected the side’s capability as of late.
Those betting on football wouldn’t have predicted Villa to struggle as much as they have. Their capitulation has been akin to a ticking time bomb, one that Smith lost control ofwith someinevitably disappointing results. It is a fate we see all too often when a side loses a star man for big money — they can’t go and get a ready-made replacement so get several different types of players and see which one suits best.
A loss to Southampton proved to be the final nail in the coffin after papering over several cracks, but chief executive Christian Purslowinsisted a shake up was needed: “This year we have not seen the continuous improvement in results, performances and league position which we have all been looking for,” he said: “For this reason we have decided to make a change now to allow time for a new head coach to make an impact.”
The opening day was cause for concern when freshly promoted Watford rolled them over 3-2 thanks to some questionable defending. A big loss to Chelsea was blemished over by a 3-0 win at home to Everton and an away win to Manchester United which could have been an opportunity to get things back on track, but further defeats to Wolves, Arsenal and West Ham United leave Smith’s side languishing in mediocrity once again — and in serious danger of being lured into another relegation dogfight.
Despite the tension around the Midlands, Smith seemed to be composed about the situation, assuring he is doing his best to get things back up and running: just days before the Southampton game”I think the perception from outside of the football club is always different,” Smith said:
“If you’re asking me if I sleep well, yes, I sleep well. I still play well at golf. My wife is still talking to me so, if that answers your question, then yes, I feel fine.There is no panic, we’re in control and determined to put things right. There has been a reaction from all the players because they are disappointed with the results.
“I’m happy to take the criticism for them. I’m a big boy, I’ve been in professional football since I was 16 years old so I’ve seen an awful lot of things.”