Aston Villa boss Dean Smith is looking for his team to finish the season strongly, beginning with Sunday’s derby clash against West Brom.
Villa made their best start to a campaign for 90 years, winning their first four Premier League matches, and until recently were challenging for the European places.
December’s 3-0 victory at The Hawthorns in the reverse fixture underlined their claim to be one of the division’s most entertaining sides.
However, a run of just two wins in 10 matches has seen those European hopes fade and a season that promised so much is in danger of becoming characterised by frustration.
Sunday’s game at Villa Park represents the latest chance for Smith’s side to rediscover some rhythm and prevent the campaign from fizzling out.
“I have been frustrated with an awful lot of the games,” admitted Smith. “But I think it has just been a really tough part of the season for everyone.
“There doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of rhythm. A lot of teams have had an awful lot of injuries to key players.”
“But we have just faced probably the best team in the world (Manchester City) at the moment and come very close to getting something out of it, so we can’t be too hard on ourselves.”
Villa have undoubtedly suffered in the absence of captain and talisman Jack Grealish, who will miss a ninth successive league game on Sunday.
The 25-year-old remains sidelined with the shin problem that saw him withdrawn from training on February 18 on the eve of the home defeat to Leicester.
In his absence Villa have scored just eight goals and Smith said: “The offensive side is what has dropped off, probably since the Covid break to be honest, even with Jack in the team.
“A few players have been trying to recapture the form they had before – Bertrand Traore, Anwar El Ghazi, Ollie Watkins have not been scoring as freely – but it is not for the want of trying.
“I have said many times my teams normally finish seasons well and I expect them to do so again this season.
“West Brom need to go and win to give them a chance of staying up and we need to go and win to make sure we finish this season as well as we started it.”
Villa, who have lost three of their last four matches, are looking to secure their first league double over the Baggies since the 2008/09 season.
But Smith knows his side will come up against a much-changed West Brom team to the one they outplayed in December, which marked Sam Allardyce’s first game in charge.
“A team who goes to Chelsea and wins 5-2, then you know they’ve certainly improved, so it’ll be a different West Brom to what we faced at The Hawthorns earlier in the season,” said Smith.
“But we have to concentrate on ourselves, the players know the importance of getting back to winning ways and finishing the season well.”
While Grealish remains out, Wesley could make his long-awaited return for Villa on Sunday.
The Brazilian striker has been out since rupturing knee ligaments in January 2020 but last week played just over an hour for the under-23 side and he may be included in the matchday squad.
Matty Cash is suspended following his red card in the defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday night.