Smith’s side on a roll

It has been well-documented the transformative impact that Jack Grealish has had on this Aston Villa side, who have seemingly gone from being destined for midtable mediocrity to shoe-ins for the top six in a month.

However, it has been very much a team effort. Firstly, the defensive issues that have plagued the side all season have been eradicated, with Dean Smith settling on a pairing of Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause.

Mings has already become a fan favourite with his aggressive challenges, while Hause has provided some much-needed calmness and composure.

John McGinn has also been hugely influential, with the Scot providing boundless energy and precision from deep, complimenting the midfield trio comprising of Grealish’s guile and Glenn Whelan’s grit. The structural improvement has helped them going forward, with winger Anwar El Ghazi beginning to generate consistency.

The Dutchman had one or two games before Grealish’s return where he showed flashes of skill, direct running, good deliveries and real potential, without being a prominent influence on games; he is not the type of player that will run back and win the ball for himself, which is why he can sometimes go missing.

Now Grealish is back linking play centrally, El Ghazi has been fed more of the ball and he is starting to look once again like the man who starred in December’s 2-2 draw at West Brom.


Off-colour Blackburn

In December, Blackburn Rovers manager Tony Mowbray was speaking in glowing terms about the attacking partnership of Danny Graham, a hardworking focal point and Bradley Dack, an effervescent number 10.

More recently though, the duo have struggled to rediscover their form and that has been problematic for Blackburn, who rely on them so heavily; Graham and Dack have scored 25 (48″ />

The former West Brom boss frequently pairs Corry Evans, a tactically disciplined midfielder, with an aggressive ball-winner like Richie Smallwood or Lewis Travis.

That works well when key forwards Graham and Dack are thriving but, when the duo are nullified, the team can be found wanting for width or creativity.

Rovers have also looked shaky at the back due to injuries to the likes of Charlie Mulgrew and Darragh Lenihan, which contributed to the concession of cheap goals in the 4-2 loss at Sheffield Wednesday last time out.

Retrospectively, the club might regret the decision to let Paul Downing and Scott Wharton leave on loan in January without recall options, not anticipating the possibility of Mulgrew and Lenihan getting injured.


Different story

When these teams met at Ewood Park in September, Villa rescued a 1-1 draw thanks to an injury-time free-kick from Conor Hourihane – but they had not looked particularly impressive in open play.

Six months on, however, the change of manager means the Villans are at a more advanced stage of finding their playing identity – while Blackburn are not as daunting a proposition as they were in the reverse fixture.

Tip: Aston Villa win to nil

How will the season end? Read Gabriel’s Championship Outright preview.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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