Aston Villa have had an up-and-down season and were six points off the play-off places after the weekend’s matches.
As we all know, Dean Smith left Brentford in October to replace Steve Bruce as manager of his boyhood club.
And while he has improved their form, they have drawn too many games so far to close the gap to the top six.
There have been some remarkable matches under his leadership – a 5-5 draw with Nottingham Forest, a 4-2 win over arch rivals Birmingham, a 3-2 defeat to Leeds, in a game in which Villa led 2-0 early on, and – last Friday – a 3-3 draw against Sheffield United, in a match in which the Blades led 3-0 until the 82nd minute.
Villa’s total of 14 draws is the highest in the Championship, but only two sides have lost fewer than their seven fixtures, and three others have been beaten the same amount of times.
Villa are in their third season in this division, following relegation from the Premier League in 2016.
Before this spell, they had only been outside the top flight for one season after 1975 following eight years in the old Division Two and Three as the 1960s became the 70s.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Dean Smith took charge of Villa in October and appointed his former Brentford right-hand man Richard O’Kelly and ex-England international and Chelsea stalwart John Terry as his assistants.
Dean had been in charge of the Bees for nearly three years after leaving Walsall, with Richard, at the end of November 2015.
He took over the Saddlers in January 2011 and took them to their first-ever Wembley appearance in the 2015 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.
And under his leadership at Griffin Park, Brentford came ninth, 10th and ninth in the Championship.
As a centre-half, Dean made nearly 700 senior appearances for Walsall, Hereford, Leyton Orient, Sheffield Wednesday and Port Vale.
We discussed Dean Smith’s tenure at Aston Villa so far with Ryan Pitcher from Aston Villa blog HeartOfThe Holte on the Beesotted radio show this week (below)
WE’VE MET BEFORE
This is only the sixth season in the entire history of the Football League in which Brentford and Aston Villa have been in the same division.
Villa had the upper hand in the six meetings in the top flight either side of World War Two, with five wins and a draw from our six meetings.
They also beat us after a replay in the FA Cup fourth round in 1952/53.
However, so far in the Championship things have swung our way, with three draws in the Midlands and two Bees wins at Griffin Park.
In 2016/17, we drew 1-1 at Villa Park after John Egan hit a late equaliser to cancel out Jonathan Kodjia’s early opener, while two goals from Lasse Vibe and one from Nico Yennaris gave us a 3-0 win in the return. While the match was taking place, Scott Hogan was signing for Villa and Sergi Canos was joining Brentford.
In last season’s first meeting, the Bees earned a 0-0 draw at Villa Park in a match we could have won.
Villa keeper Sam Johnstone was the home side’s hero – twice denying Ollie Watkins, while Nico Yennaris, Yoann Barnet and Neal Maupay all went close.
The Boxing Day return was moved to an evening game as it was shown live on Sky, and a goal in each half from Romaine Sawyers and Lasse Vibe – either side of an equalising header from Josh Onomah – gave us a 2-1 win, our second successive festive victory, and extended Villa’s winless run to five matches.
Villa snatched a last-gasp point in our first meeting of this season on a Wednesday night in August, as a see-saw game ended 2-2.
Neal Maupay put us ahead midway through the first half but Jonathan Kodjia equalised before the break. Maupay restored our lead in the 82nd minute, and we seemed on course for a rare away win before Kodjia struck in the fifth minute of injury-time.
BBC WM Sport’s Mark Regan takes a look at the impact made by Dean Smith in his new job, why it hasn’t worked out for Scott Hogan at Villa Park, and which Villa players to watch out for on Wednesday night.
Q – How do you assess the job Dean Smith has done since arriving at Villa Park?
A – Initially there was an upturn in performances and results, the away wins at Derby and Middlesbrough were right up there with the best that Villa have played for a long time and there were hopes that this was a sign of things to come.
Sadly, injuries to key players have combined with a drop in form and there have been too many draws in recent weeks (seven of the last 11 in the league have been drawn). The new signings are still to bed in and the injured players (Jack Grealish and Axel Tuanzebe) should return, but whether that’ll be in time to boost the play-off chances remains to be seen.
Q – What has he done differently to Steve Bruce?
A – In his first few weeks there were clean sheets and goals and a run of games that saw them look like a side capable of pushing into the top six. Some Villa fans point to the draw against WBA as a turning point – the controversial late goal rescued a point for the Baggies but since then Villa have won just twice.
So initially Villa looked forward quicker and passed the ball with a bit more purpose and intent. Since the game against WBA, Villa haven’t matched those early standards on a consistent basis. So it may be more time is needed for his ideas to get across as well as changing his squad to suit his ideas.
Q – What is his relationship like with the fans – does being a Villa fan himself help him or actually put him under more pressure?
A – Overall there’s a degree of patience towards Smith from the fans, I don’t think there’s any immediate pressure on him but, at a club like Villa, he will know sooner or later that will run out if results aren’t there. The summer will be a time of huge change (whichever division Villa are in) and next season will be the first time Dean Smith will have a more critical eye cast over his team.
Q – Do you know anything about a report suggesting Villa bid for Chris Mepham shortly before he joined Bournemouth – and do you know if Dean tried to return for any other Bees players?
A – I think a lot of the speculation was just that. It’s easy for a manager to get linked with previous club’s players. There’s no way Villa could compete with a Premier League club and I think Villa are in the process of revising their approach to the kind of players they bring in. Gone are the days of big names on big wages, as they look for younger players that fit the style as well as being assets they can sell for a profit if it comes to selling at all.
Q – How do you see the rest of the season panning out – what do you think are Villa’s chances of making the play-offs?
A – The play-offs are there for them to aim for, but the performances have to be better in terms of consistency. They have dropped points against Wigan and Reading and are now in a run of games against teams above them in the table, so they will need to start hitting high levels and maintain them if they are to push into the top six. The likes of Grealish and Tuanzebe need to return sooner rather than later to help them along, but as things stand I think a top six finish is a 50/50 call.
Q – Why didn’t Scott Hogan make it at Villa?
A – In a word, confidence. Looking back over his time at Villa Park I think he needed to get off and running straight away to boost his own belief. To be fair to the player, he worked hard enough and made runs that were all too frequently ignored, so the chances dried up, the goals dried up and he found himself on the bench more and more – which in turn dented his confidence even further. Maybe a new start will be just what he needs. I think a confident Scott Hogan would be a different player to the one we saw at Villa.
Q – Which Villa players should Brentford fans watch out for?
A – Tammy Abraham (which won’t surprise anyone!) he’s lively with his running and a real goal threat in the air and on the ground. Also watch out for John McGinn, he’s a player that every club would want. Pure energy and drive from the midfield. In testing times he’s looked like he’s carrying the Villa side single-handedly, he’s the kind of midfielder that literally does cover every blade of grass!!
Q – Finally can you tell me a likely Villa line-up and formation please?
Hutton Elphick Mings Taylor
Adomah McGinn El Ghazi
BEESOTTED SCORE PREDICTIONS
Some of the Beesotted crew have given me their score predictions for Wednesday’s game.
2-1 Bees – Never lost to them. Hopefully never will. Canos, Sawyers & Henry to lead them a merry dance & Jeanvier to manage Abraham. Greville Waterman
3-1 Bees -Bees will bounce back to winning ways against Aston Villa and put on a show for the return of Dean Smith. Dave Lane
2-1 Bees – Griffin Park will be rocking and an early goal to get into the swing of things. Dean to be hailed with a load of ‘should have stayed at the big club’, when we go 2-0 up. Villa maybe get one later on to make a tight finish. Edward the Headward
3-2 Bees – Villa leaky at the moment, but do have goals in them. Gary Paul
1-1 – Depends which Bees get put out. I’ve a feeling we may save Mokotjo for the Swansea game, leaving McEachran to play as our defensive midfielder. This may play into Smith’s hands. And could be tough. Billy Grant
PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS
For Aston Villa fans coming to the game, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).
As you are probably well aware, Brentford is well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground.
The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal and the Royal Oak are the other options.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.
The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields. The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles.
There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave)– right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.
And another new pub worth checking out is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road.
There is a pub right by Brentford mainline station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For real ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push.
The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super-adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge, and across from the site of the Bees’ new stadium at Lionel Road, with a deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel. There are a load more pubs in the river in Kew if that takes your fancy.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many, many more too if you have a look around.
Parking near the stadium is a no no but is pretty easy in the streets north of Griffin Park on the other side of the A4 Great West Rd via Ealing Road or Windmill Road. Make sure you look our for the parking signs which change from area to area.
Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.
By tube, it’s 35 minutes to South Ealing or Northfields stations from King’s Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Griffin Park from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.
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