Dean Smith proud as Aston Villa proves doubters wrong

Aston Villa avoided relegation by capturing eight points in its last four games, including a midweek win over Arsenal that proved crucial.

Aston Villa's Trezeguet and teammates celebrate avoiding relegation to stay in the Premier League.   -  REUTERS

Aston Villa's first Premier League campaign after a three-year absence began with a defeat in London almost a year ago and ended back in the capital with a draw that guaranteed survival.

What happened in between that opening day loss at Tottenham Hotspur and Sunday's 1-1 stalemate at West Ham United was not always pretty, but staying up means everything.

Villa had splashed the cash last summer with a frenzy of signings, spending well in excess of 100 million pounds ($127.89 million) bringing in the likes of defenders Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa and forwards Wesley Moraes and Trezeguet.

WRAP: Villa survives with tense draw; Watford, Bournemouth relegated

But for most of the campaign, the team looked an assortment of individuals and was lurching towards an immediate return along with Norwich City, which had a valid excuse having spent virtually nothing having also been promoted last season.

With four games remaining Villa was second from bottom, four points shy of the safety zone having picked up one point from a possible 15.

Manager Dean Smith managed to steel the team for one final push, however, and in its last four games Villa captured eight points, including a midweek win over Arsenal that proved crucial.

After the draw at West Ham, a result combined with Watford’s defeat at Arsenal, that kept Villa up, Smith said his side had proved the doubters wrong.

“I'm pleased, proud and every adjective to go with it,” he said. “A lot of people had us relegated but we have worked so hard. We used the pandemic well. We have looked strong.

“A lot's been made of what we spent, but we had to. I would have said this if we had been relegated. It is an achievement from the players. They have grown and become Premier League players. We need to build on that and recruit in the summer.”

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One of the biggest challengers now for Villa will be to make sure it is not in a similar position next season and trying to keep hold of captain Jack Grealish will be vital.

The midfielder has impressed since the restart of the season following the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and scored an 84th minute opener at West Ham before the host hit back almost immediately through Andriy Yarmolenko to set up a tense final few minutes.

“He has been getting better and better. He has come good when he needed to,” Smith said of Grealish who will be a target during the transfer window. “It (his future) will all be sorted over the next month.

“Tonight we will enjoy a magnificent achievement. It feels better than when we went up through the playoffs.”

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