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Struggling Villa deserve to be higher in league, says Smith

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Liverpool v Aston Villa - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - July 5, 2020 Aston Villa's Jack Grealish speaks with manager Dean Smith before the match, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) REUTERS / Carl Recine / Pool/File Photo

(Reuters) - Aston Villa’s points tally is not a fair reflection of recent performances but they will take heart from a gritty display in the defeat at Liverpool last weekend as they battle to avoid relegation, manager Dean Smith said on Wednesday.

Villa, who are third-bottom with 27 points, four adrift of the safety zone, have failed to win a Premier League game since January and have just two points from their last nine matches.

“Our form in terms of performance levels has been much better since the restart,” Smith told reporters in a virtual news conference ahead of Thursday’s game at home to fifth-placed Manchester United.

“We haven’t got the points we feel we deserve. There’s certainly points we have left out there and we should be in a much healthier position. The only way we can put that right is on the training ground and in the last five games.”

Villa kept new Premier League champions Liverpool at bay for over 70 minutes before succumbing to a 2-0 loss on Sunday and Smith was encouraged by his side’s display at Anfield.

“There is a lot of heart we can take but we will need that sort of performance again but be better in the final third,” he said as his Villa side prepare to face a United team on a 16-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

“United are a very good team, they have improved. Bruno Fernandes is playing very well, they have pace and power up front. But they conceded a couple of goals (in Saturday’s 5-2 win) against Bournemouth. You can see weaknesses in any team.”

Villa held United to a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in December and Smith is hoping for another battling performance from his team.

“We more than matched them on the day. We have to do that again, they’re in a better run of form now but there is a lot of desire within the team,” he said.

Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris