LONDON (Reuters) - Aston Villa manager Dean Smith believes his Premier League strugglers will claw their way out of relegation danger if they continue to play like they did in their 2-1 defeat by Manchester City in Sunday’s League Cup final.
Smith’s side are languishing second-bottom of the table and came into the final having lost their last three league games, but they were far from overwhelmed by a City side who lifted the League Cup for a third straight season.
After falling behind to goals from Sergio Aguero and Spaniard Rodri in the first 30 minutes, the Midlanders looked to be in for a punishing afternoon at Wembley.
Yet a goal just before halftime by Mbwana Samatta gave them renewed hope and they almost forced extra time when City keeper Claudio Bravo pulled off a remarkable save to push Bjorn Engels’ header against the post and out in the 87th minute.
Villa are two points adrift of the Premier League safety zone, albeit with a game in hand, but Smith saw enough from his players on Sunday to have hope for the rest of the campaign.
“We take it game-by-game; we came here to win a trophy but our concentration now goes to the Premier League,” he said.
“You can’t hide from the fact we are in the bottom three, but if we play like that we’ll get out of the relegation spot.”
City dominated possession and chances but at the very start and at the end of the encounter, Villa showed they could threaten the reigning Premier League champions.
Anwar El Ghazi headed a good chance over for Villa after three minutes and the game finished with City defending stoutly.
“Against Man City you are going to have to be patient, disciplined, but if you can go toe-to-toe like we did at the death, with Bravo pulling off a great save, that performance will get you wins against a lot of teams in this league,” Smith said.
The display was a far cry from Villa’s last outing when they suffered a dismal 2-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Southampton.
“The performance level today is the standard we have to be,” Smith said. “We were written off after our performance against Southampton, and needed a reaction and I think we got that.”
Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Ken Ferris