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What Dean Smith needs to do to make Aston Villa genuine top-two contenders

By the time Steve Bruce was sacked by Aston Villa, there was no sense around the club that they could repeat last season’s performance level and become genuine promotion contenders.

Dean Smith was the obvious choice and perhaps the only man who could have brought about a rapid improvement at Villa Park, although perhaps he has even been surprised by the speed of his new side’s transformation.

But there is still more Villa need to do to cling to the coattails of sides who have played like promotion contenders all season.

Defensive solidity has to be a priority. Smith has put the emphasis on attacking improvement to both provide a clean break from Bruce’s dour approach and free up his glittering forward line, but that will only take Villa so far.

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Getting sheer numbers through the door would help – injuries would seriously derail Villa’s current thin options – as would a goalkeeping upgrade on Ørjan Nyland, who is yet to convince.

There is an overreliance on Tammy Abraham for goals, but in Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia, Smith has a supporting cast able of chipping in; squad management will be the key there.

And of course there is the psychological barrier to get over. Does everyone connected with Villa truly believe they can get up yet?

It’s doubtful, and Smith also has to get his players to believe they can go one better than last season – scars of a Wembley defeat can run deep.

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