Dean Smith credited Aston Villa’s spirit after their 1-0 victory over Southampton – a result which has seen them gate-crash the top eight at the halfway stage of the season. It was Ross Barkley with the headed winner after 41 minutes with Villa hanging on at the death with Emi Martinez in inspired form to deny Che Adams and Jan Bednarek. Villa had a contentious VAR call go in their favour inside the opening 10 minutes while, in stoppage time, Danny Ings was inches offside after he latched onto a rebound before putting the ball into the net. Smith’s men dug deep to win this one, their first win over Saints in 10 attempts and, afterwards, here’s what the head coach had to say.
Dean Smith said “We’ve had a tough period having 10 days in isolation and coming back to four games in 11 days. I’m really pleased with the effort of the players. [Saints] put us under pressure and we tweaked our system to deal with that without the ball. But it’s not just the back four; you look at Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins and Ross Barkley, it was there for all to see tonight. It was such a team effort. It’s been a really pleasing turnaround from when we went into lockdown to where we are now. We stayed in the league and we’ve learnt a lot of lessons from last season and added quality signings. We’re doing really well but we’re only halfway there at the moment (after 19 games).”
DID YOU THINK ABOUT MAKING A SUBSTITUTION?
Dean Smith said “Our two defensive midfielders, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn, were outstanding. I didn’t really want to unsettle the balance of what we were doing there. They were breaking up attacks and did well. Jack and Ollie, everyone could see what they were giving us. I thought Bert Traore – going forward but also defensively to help Matty Cash – was excellent. That was Ross’ first 90 minutes as well today. It was a tough one to change anybody. They had a lot more of the ball than us but never looked like they were going to hurt us but for a couple of blocks and saves.”
CHARACTER AND GRIT SHOWN HERE
Dean Smith said “Their resoluteness has always been there. I looked back at the other game the other night (Burnley) and we were unfortunate. It was two half-chances for their goals and it was easy for me to be critical of the players but I was annoyed after that we came away with nothing. We showed another side of our game tonight; we didn’t play as well as Wednesday (vs Burnley) but we’ve had a bit of fortune tonight and the difference was the quality of our goal tonight.
MARTINEZ EXCEEDING YOUR EXPECTATION?
Dean Smith said “He’s probably exceeded what I thought he was going to bring to the team; his calmness and personality. That’s been really pleasing and he’s been a good addition to that dressing room. I’m expecting him to make the saves he did tonight and so will he as well. He was the first in the dressing room today thanking the players for their blocks.”
VAR CALL ON CASH’S HANDBALL; WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN MIFFED?
Dean Smith said “I’d have certainly appealed for it but the letter of the law states that if it deflects off another side of the body it can’t be given. I haven’t seen it back. Matty Cash came into the dressing room at half time and said it deflected off his thigh. It looked marginal but I haven’t seen it back.”
Dean Smith said “I’ve always said that. There should be a gap in between. But we’ve got an offside line that’s consistent with every team now. We all know where we stand with the so-called line. But I’ve always felt there should be some daylight there.”
HOW’S SANSON SETTLED IN WITH THE LADS?
Dean Smith said “He’s settled in well. He sang his initiation song last night but nobody understood it because it was in French! He’s only done 45 minutes training so far. It takes time as it always does but we’ve certainly signed a good player and a good personality.”
UNITY IN THIS GROUP, A BAND OF BROTHERS…
Dean Smith said “It’s a good dressing room at the moment. I’ve spoken about building a culture and it takes time to get right. We’ve got a good one at the moment.”
GUILBERT HEADING OUT, WHY HASN’T IT WORKED OUT?
Dean Smith said “We bought Matty Cash in at the start of this season because we felt he was a good-value, quality signing from the Championship who’s done ever so well. We’ve also got Elmo here and (Guilbert) probably wasn’t going to get the minutes with us having three right-backs. We want him to go out on loan, get minutes under his belt and come back here in the summer.”
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