Did Dean Smith’s Aston Villa Have Play-off Form in 2018?

Promotion Hope

Once Dean Smith’s Villa had fired Aston Villa back into life this season after a dire start under Steve Bruce, it was hoped that he could get Villa in the play-off spots by the turn of the year, thus providing a solid base to kick-on their promotion push from in 2019.

Approaching the new year, Villa have stuttered slightly in recent matches, unable to close out games they looked good for three points from. Currently, they sit 9th in the Championship table, five points off the play-off spots and 11 points off the automatic promotion spots.

After a 3-0 away win at Derby helped instil the belief behind a seven-game unbeaten run and got supporters thinking about promotion again, any thoughts of automatic promotion suffered a reality check recently from Leeds United at Villa Park.

There’s also been too many draws, which has led to Smith winning less than half (six) of his 13 games as Villa’s Head Coach.

Villa fans will point to how many of the draws could and should have been three point outcomes.

The handball injustice of the 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns, the inability to put 10-men Forest to the sword at 5-4, and letting a 2-0 lead slip at home to Leeds, have all shaped their current moderate league position.

It’s easy to hone in on Villa’s misfortune and forget about the opposition’s close shaves though, when evaluating dropped points.

While Villa would have hoped to beat Preston away from home, the 1-1 draw was fair enough. Despite Birkir Bjarnason’s near miss, ultimately Villa probably didn’t deserve to win the game. Also, a better penalty from Wilfred Bony would have denied Villa a Boxing Day win at Swansea.

Smith’s Villa Record

When you consider Villa’s record solely under Dean Smith this season, the fact of the matter is they are actually outside play-off form at the moment.

Aston Villa under Dean Smith in 2018

In mitigation, when you look at the current league table, bar games against Bolton, Preston and Swansea, all Smith’s Villa fixtures have been against teams in the top half of the league.

In that respect, he’s made distinct progress with the same set of players on what Bruce managed in fixtures largely against the bottom-half teams in the league.

That said, the likes of Hull City, Birmingham City and QPR have all performed better than Villa since Smith has been in charge and they have all beaten some of the top teams in the league.

Last season, Fulham, the team who made an amazing recovery after a poor start to the season and gained promotion, faced the top six Championship teams in succession. They won five and drew one of those fixtures, which essentially catapulted them into the play-off spots.

In terms of promotion, there is a ‘do or do not’ mentality to the process. Trying and improving don’t really enter into the equation in the final analysis.

So what issues have held Smith back, so far?

Defensive Frailty

For starters, Villa have had good work undone by the issue that MOMS previously predicted would cost Bruce his job, the poor nature of their backline and keeper.

Matters should improve in 2019 on that front, as Smith has already begun to address this weakness prior to the January window opening by calling back Tommy Elphick from his loan at Hull and hopefully upgrading the goalkeeping department with the signing of Lovre Kalinić.

Sick Bay

Injuries have also compromised Smith, trimming the available squad size the Villa Head Coach has had to work with, especially recently when Villa have faced three games within the space of a week and the intense nature of the Christmas holiday period.

Such injury problems aren’t exclusive to Villa though.


Still, there has been the matter of Jack Grealish’s absence. Not every team has a Grealish-type player in their ranks, who offers another level of invention going forward and a spark to change the direction of any game.

Smith had been successfully working on increasing the impact of Grealish in games, by encouraging him to make runs beyond Villa’s centre-forward. Certainly he seems to have enjoyed linking up with Tammy Abraham.

While he’s a big miss, Villa have more than enough attacking talent in their ranks to make the play-offs, even if Grealish was out for the rest of the season. So, the media and supporters shouldn’t put too much onus on his recent absence. After all, at least two teams will get promoted this season from the Championship without Grealish in their team.

Road Ahead

That said, Villa, with defensive reinforcements, a stable keeper and the return of Grealish, will present Smith with one of the very best teams in the division at his disposal.

Despite what has to be considered an ok start at best in terms of the goal of promotion, Smith has importantly already got Villans believing again in their team.

While promotion is far from guaranteed, expect an improvement in results and hopefully an exciting finish to the season.


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  1. Nice and logical article.
    1 loss in 10 with all of the above I think is better than where we were heading.
    Elphick going to Hull was mind boggling to me and glad he’s back.
    People have to be realistic and accept the situation here.
    Signings in January still have to fit in and bed down so a push to playoffs is realistic goal

  2. What’s John Terry for? I’m serious – what’s he for? (We know, full well, who he’s for!)

  3. I expected a lot more tactically from Dean Smith, but it just seems same old same old, and I totaly agree at this rate we are going to struggle to make the play offs, our results lately have been diabolical and if Tammy our best player by a country mile goes back in January we’re stuffed.
    I personally don’t understand why Dean is talking up Elmo saying he was our best player when he alone has cost us 5 points in the last 3 games and a place in the play offs. I think we have lost the plot, and given our current form I can’t see where we go from here.

  4. Also playing 2 wingers and fullbacks who seem unable to get a cross past the first man ain’t working. Rarely do I see when one winger has it the other getting into the box to support the lone striker. Kodja can and does. We continuously leave the full backs trying to mark two men leaving a centre half to be drawn out and leave us wide open. Without grealish to carry the ball we need to pass it much quicker. Also when we have the ball wide left there is rarely an easy short pass square only back. These are simple basics.

  5. We have such a long way to go to becoming a good team. But thankfully lot of matches left. We could have been 5th today but results including ours were not good. The teams in top 6 and others will continue to pick up points and be hard to catch. Smith’s reign has so far been not good enough. We will not get into playoffs with his current record let alone win it. We have a squad the envy of all. Leeds apart from center half and keeper would not get into our squad. Plus 6 acadamy players on bench. But in our game there was only one team thought they would win it once they scored their first. The players belief is still not there. We still have too big a squad and players who are bad for the club. It will take another 2 years to rectify this. More signings and loans can only make this worse if we don’t unload. We need 2 out 1 in strategy. But my God the football’s better ( apart from my trip to Preston)

  6. No good bemoaning our injury woes, Swansea and Preston both played us with well under strength teams and we were lucky to get 4 points. We have to many underperforming, Tammy & McGinnis must be getting sick of giving 100% only to see our crap defence continually throwing points away by not being able to do the basics. IMO Deano has a bigger job on than we thought. We need one midfield defensive and at least 3 new defenders to be in with a shout for promotion,welcome back Tommy hope you now get a decent chance at least as much as the clowns playing at the moment.UTV.

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