Aston Villa secured a 3-0 win over Bristol City on Saturday afternoon as Dean Smith returned to the sideline while speculation rages on over Jack Grealish’s future.
The Villa skipper is currently still on holiday but is the subject of never-ending gossip as he continues to be linked with a move to Manchester City next month.
However, Saturday was an opportunity for the coaching staff and players to focus on matters on the pitch again, with an alternate XI picking up a 1-0 win over Crewe in a behind-closed-doors game at Bodymoor Heath.
With Smith in Bristol though, he will have been pleased with what he saw both from his side and our performance as well as the test itself in what was a solid run-out in general.
Watkins heavily involved
While it remains to be seen who will be supplying him this season, Ollie Watkins impressed in this outing as he provided an assist for the opening goal and bagged Villa’s third to complete the victory.
His movement, touch and link-up play was impressive, particularly early on in the first half, and he was a real handful for the Bristol City defence.
It’s hoped that he’s gearing up for an improved season compared to his debut campaign with us last year.
Clean sheet bonus
Smith will no doubt have been left delighted to see us keep a clean sheet after leaking goals against Stoke City last time out, as we look to build a solid foundation again this season.
The hosts were poor in the first half but applied more pressure and played at a better tempo after the break, forcing us onto the back foot and making us defend.
With that in mind, it was a good pre-season run out for us and the defence in particular, which was still missing Emiliano Martinez, Matt Targett and Tyrone Mings.
Villa have an impressive group of young players pushing to break into the first team this season, and it appears as though Jaden Philiogene-Bidace is going to be near the front of that queue, if not right at the front.
The 19-year-old had a simple finish to break the deadlock, but the movement into the box to get onto the end of Watkins’ cross was impressive.
That aside, his quick feet, good technical quality and movement were all positive aspects of his display.
Villa fans make feelings clear on Grealish
While opinion will likely be split on Grealish amongst the Villa faithful, those in attendance at Ashton Gate made their feelings clear throughout the game.
From sporadic renditions of ‘Super Jack’ to clear messages to Man City over their reported £100m offer, the Villa supporters who travelled for the game tried their best to send a message to our captain on what he should decide to do this summer.
Boost to have Smith back
After being forced to self-isolate during our start to the pre-season schedule, it was great to have Smith back on the sidelines and leading the way again.
With John Terry no longer part of his backroom staff, it was Smith who took on more a vocal role this weekend, with assistant Craig Shakespeare on hand to offer advice.
Time will tell if Smith and Villa decide to bring in a replacement for Terry, but for now, it was a boost to have the Villa boss working closely with the players again and casting a close eye on their performances.