Make-or-break run will test Villa’s Premier League credentials

Aston Villa

Dean Smith insists Aston Villa have proved they are good enough to survive but a tough run of fixtures coming up is likely test them to the limit.

Villa sit nervously just one place above the bottom three after 26 games as they aim to make it more than just a one-season stay back in the top flight following their promotion via the play-offs last May.

Smith’s men have shown plenty of good signs this season and have often narrowly lost out in tight games by just the odd goal, underlining their ability to compete with the best, even if sometimes poor finishing or defensive mistakes have cost them.

The 3-2 defeat last time out at home to Tottenham was a case in point as they generally gave as good as they got against Jose Mourinho’s men only to end up with nothing to show for their considerable efforts.

Similar narrow defeats earlier in the campaign to Liverpool, Wolves, Chelsea and Arsenal – all by a single goal – prove Villa are doing plenty right but they will have to start picking up points between now and May if they are to keep their heads above water in the intense relegation fight.

The problem is their next seven games look difficult and wins could be at a premium. First up on Saturday is a trip to Southampton, who themselves are not yet clear of danger despite sitting 12th in the table. Villa then go to third-place Leicester on March 9 before hosting Chelsea, who are currently fourth, on March 14, and getting anything from those two games will clearly be tough.

Following that, Smith’s men go to Newcastle, who could also be in the relegation mix, and then they play successive games against Wolves, Liverpool and Manchester United, matches Villa will go into as outsiders as the run-in begins to loom large.

Smith, for now, remains confident and told reporters: “If we play to the capabilities that have got, we are a match for anyone. We played ever so well in the first half [against Spurs], and to concede through a mistake in the dying minutes was difficult.

“We can take a lot of heart from the performance and we know what we have to work on to improve. The break did us good, we went at a team that can be top four.”

The Villans have hovered in and around the bottom three all season but as we approach the business end of the campaign results – as well as good performances – will be key to their survival hopes.