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Is Dean Smith out of his depth in the Premier League?

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Chief Executive Christian Purslow, Dean Smith manager of Aston Villa and Sporting Director Jesus Garcia Pitarch during a press conference at Villa Park Stadium on October 15, 2018 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
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Aston Villa’s derby defeat to Wolves has for the first time this season left the Villa faithful slightly frustrated with the goings-on on the football pitch.

You’re inevitably going to hear some grumbles when a team loses before the international break given that no one wants to stew over a loss for two weeks but in Villa’s case, a deeper feeling of frustration is beginning to creep in.

Now it’s easy to forget that this time last year Villa were sitting in 11th place in the Championship and only eight points off the relegation places. Steve Bruce’s eventual sacking in October led to Dean Smith being appointed but it did take a while for the lifelong Villa fan to get his team rocking after Jack Grealish suffered a shin injury in December which ruled him out for three months. Upon his return on March the 2nd, Smith gave Grealish the captaincy and off Villa went on a record 10 game winning streak that would see them gatecrash the playoffs and ultimately secure promotion to the Premier League.

It was a remarkable run that led Villa to the Premier League and it would be remiss not to mention how big an impact Tyrone Mings had after arriving on loan from Bournemouth in January. That’s the Championship for you, a team can look dead and buried after Christmas but with the right additions in January and a bit of momentum you just never know what can happen. It’s probably why most of the teams that go up via the playoffs ended up coming right back down after being relegated.

After all, it doesn’t necessarily even mean that they are among the best three sides in the Championship. It would take a brave man to argue that Dean Smith’s Villa were better or more deserving of promotion than Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds who weren’t out of the top three for the entire season. And there is an argument to be made now that maybe because of the topsy-turvy nature of the Championship, that, in fact, Dean Smith’s reputation as a miracle worker may well be misleading. Let’s go back to the Wolves game and have a look at a reoccurring theme that worryingly seems to be setting in.

There is a fragility to Villa and it was seen once again at Molineux after they went two goals down in the 84th minute and carried on this trend of shipping goals late on. It was by no means a surprise to see Raul Jimenez slot home from close range so late on to kill off all hopes of Villa getting anything, you felt it was always coming. In the lead up to the game punters would have seen the football tips from Betfair calling on Villa to improve their mental toughness in order to get something out of the game. As mentioned before, there is a sense that this team is becoming slightly more brittle as the season goes on.

Whether that’s due to a lack of confidence or the fact that there can be no more glossing over Smith’s managerial flaws remains to be seen.

By all accounts, Dean Smith is a very good coach who’s best attributes can be found on the training ground but the task of keeping a team in the Premier League could be a bridge too far.

You just have to look at how Cardiff went after being promoted during the 2017/2018 season to understand that if a manager gets you out of the Championship, they may not necessarily be the right ones to take up the mantle in the Premier League. Having said that, a club’s hands are almost always tied as sacking a manager who has earned promotion will undoubtedly incur the wrath of the football world.

As far as Dean Smith goes, at this moment in time, his shortcomings are there for all to see and the challenge for him will be to sort it out before the Aston Villa board decide they have seen enough. Newcastle will be the next team to arrive at Villa Park with none other than Steve Bruce as their manager, should Villa lose that game it could well be a Christmas to forget for Dean Smith.