July 20, 2020 / 10:53 AM / 17 days ago

Avoiding relegation will silence critics, says Villa boss Smith

(Reuters) - Aston Villa have a duty to prove their detractors wrong and stave off relegation from the Premier League in a season that’s been ravaged by injuries, manager Dean Smith said on Monday.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Everton v Aston Villa - Goodison Park, Liverpool, Britain - July 16, 2020 Aston Villa manager Dean Smith looks dejected after the match, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pool via REUTERS/Clive Brunskill

Villa are third-bottom with 31 points, three away from the safety zone with two games to play.

They have won just once in seven league games since the season’s restart and Smith has challenged his side to step up and silence the critics who had written off their chances of survival.

“I think there’s been pressure on us ever since we came back for Project Restart. I think everybody has had us relegated since March,” Smith told reporters in a virtual news conference ahead of Tuesday’s clash against 10th-placed Arsenal.

“Our job is to go and prove people wrong. These players have played under pressure and they seem to thrive on it. I feel that our performance levels have been good since the restart but we haven’t got the points we deserve.

“I feel that players are coming to the fore now at the top end of the pitch and starting to perform a lot better than they were. I’ve given them a few quotes from pundits. The lads can go and use that as a positive.”

Smith said injuries to Wesley, Tom Heaton and John McGinn, who have all missed major chunks of the season, have contributed to Villa’s struggles.

“It’s frustrating because I believe we’ve got the players here. We’ve been hampered by some big injuries this season to key players... They would hamper any team in the league,” he said.

Arsenal visit Villa Park on the back of wins over Premier League champions Liverpool and FA Cup holders Manchester City and Smith believes his side are prepared to stand up to the task.

“We have to concentrate fully on ourselves, it’s a very important game, we have to get a result in this game and the players know that,” he said.

Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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