Dean Smith, the man who brought Marvelous Nakamba to the English Premiership, finds himself under immense pressure at Aston Villa with his job now on the line.
Smith watched his side succumb to a fourth-straight defeat, in the Premier League, when West Ham United came to Villa Park on Sunday and left with a comfortable 4-1 win. Goals from Ben Johnson, Declan Rice, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen downed Villa and left Smith’s men in 15th place, and only three points from the relegation zone, after 10 games.
Now, there is rising fury among the fans and the future looks uncertain for both the club and the manager. Nakamba is being courted by Newcastle United and sources say he could be interested in the move to gain more game time after he has largely been restricted to the bench at Villa.
He was thrown into his first start of the season, since Villa lost to Watford on the opening day of the campaign, and the Zimbabwean was powerless to stop the club crashing to another big defeat.
Smith has plenty of credit in the bank, having earned promotion from the Championship in his first season two years, and he then went on to keep Villa in the Premier League and then steered them to a solid 11th placed finish last season. He has transformed Villa’s fortunes, with the help of owners Nassef Sawaris and Wes Edens, but there is considerable debate about whether he should continue in his position.
BirminghamLive’s Ashley Preece hosted a question-and-answer session with club fans on Monday morning.
“I have been told that the board remains right behind the manager,” he wrote.
Sawiris and Edens, who own Villa through their NSWE company, have backed Smith with £300 million for transfers.
However, it’s not looking great reading for Smith and Villa, if they take a glance at the bookmakers’ odds.
SkyBet have him down as the next Premier League manager most likely to be sacked, in front of struggling Norwich City manager, Daniel Farke.
Smith is even money to get the chop but that looks very unlikely at this stage.
The Southampton game looks a big one for Villa and Smith but it is not expected that any big decisions will be taken in the aftermath of the trip to the south coast.
“We will turn this around and get better,” said Smith, after the West Ham game.
“The perception probably outside the football club is very different to what it is at Bodymoor Heath. The players have a great belief in what they’re doing and what we’re doing.”
The clock is ticking for Smith and his players to turn it around because it just can’t go on like this.
Four defeats on the spin, three points off the drop, the bottom line is this – Villa just aren’t good enough at the minute and haven’t been for a long old while now.
Sunday’s Halloween horror show was the first time Smith’s Villa have shipped four since that 0-4 thumping in the rain at Leicester when the pandemic, in effect, saved the Villa manager’s job.
The mood, among the masses, is very much the same as it was back in March 2020 knowing Villa are trapped in an alarming winless rut they desperately need to get out of.
Preece was at Villa Park on Sunday and here are his talking points ahead of what’s looking like a huge one at Southampton on Friday ahead of the international break.
“From the 15-minute collapse at Wolves to the body language in that first-half at Arsenal and once again at full-time (on Sunday night), all is not rosy despite Smith’s claret and blue-tinted comments,’’ noted Preece.
“There’s genuine frustration among the group of players, we can all see that.
“It’s all snowballing into one big mess, from system changes to fitness issues and a worrying run of form.
“I didn’t get the rallying cry I hoped for from Smith when asked about what his message would be to supporters. It was just excuses and another ‘we’ll get it right’.
“It’s been like that for weeks now and there’s not been one flicker of hope that Villa fans can cling onto.
“Smith’s statements are beginning to fall on deaf ears because they’re simply not being backed up.
“The gaffer deserves time to get it right but we must see stark improvements down at St Mary’s this week because five losses on the bounce — with the squad Villa have — would be inexcusable.
“For me, it’s beginning to feel like we’re at crisis point.
“Villa are currently conceding a goal every 30 minutes on average.
“Yet, it’s the same personnel in place at the back with Emi Martinez, Matty Cash, Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa and Matt Targett all starting most weeks.’’
Preece believes the midfield is the team’s weakest link.
“The goalkeeper and defenders aren’t Villa’s biggest problem, though, it’s the midfield and what’s in front of them,’’ he noted.
“The alarm bells were set off last week when Arsenal centre-back Ben White was allowed to run at Villa’s goal from deep in his own half.
“Emile Smith Rowe did the exact same without a single challenge going in.
“Villa’s midfield on Sunday was Marvelous Nakamba (first Premiere League start since bashing at Watford), John McGinn (gifted Arsenal two last week) and 36-year-old Ashley Young.
“The trio just isn’t good enough to compete with your Declan Rices or Tomas Souceks, as it proved. Thomas Partey and Sambi Lokonga were far too strong at Arsenal, likewise Leander Dendoncker and Ruben Neves who came on strong in the collapse against Wolves.
“Before that, Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg were all too smart and savvy. Even Thomas Cleverley and 34-year-old Juraj Kucka were made to look like world-beaters way back on the opening day.
“Smith’s Villa just cannot control football matches and it’s down to a near non-existent midfield which lacks genuine, elite-level quality on a consistent basis.
“European qualification was the aim amongst the hierarchy after Smith signed Ings, Bailey and Emi Buendia with the £100 million Jack Grealish cash.
“Villa are simply a million and one miles away from that feat happening come May.’’