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Parkinson: Villa's post play-off hangover no surprise

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Wanderers’ hosts this evening have endured a disappointing start to the season, and with a return to the Premier League looking a remote possibility Aston Villa became the first Championship club to sack their manager.

Steve Bruce was dismissed at the start of October, with lifelong Villa fan Dean Smith taking over, backed by former England captain John Terry as his assistant.

While pre-season expectations were great in the West Midlands, Phil Parkinson was not especially shocked as the 1982 European champions made a stuttering start to life after their play-off final defeat to Fulham in May.

Three league and cup wins kicked off their campaign but one win in the next 10 saw Bruce relieved of his duties, a move Parkinson – whose own employment status has been the subject of much speculation recently – says may have been somewhat premature.

“Obviously they got into the play-offs last year and there can be a hangover from that,” he told The Bolton News. “I feel it was a bit harsh on Steve [Bruce] losing his job.

“If you look in history in previous seasons a team that loses the play-off final find the next season is always a struggle.

“That’s been what happened, and they decided to make a change but I’m sure Steve will bounce back.

“I do have sympathy with Steve, they had incredible turmoil in the summer in terms of what’s been going on behind the scenes.

“Dean’s a good manager and he deserves a chance at a club like Aston Villa.

“He won the first game but then they’ve lost a couple so it probably hasn’t gone as well as he’d have liked but it takes time.

“He wants them to be a more of a possession-based team and it takes time to create that.”

Key to Villa’s chances of making up the seven-point gap to the play-offs is midfielder Jack Grealish. With Tottenham believed to be among the top-flight clubs chasing him last summer, the 23-year-old has come in for more rough treatment than any other player in the Championship. Current manager Smith and his predecessor Bruce have both called for referees to offer the Villans’ prize young star – who signed a new five-year deal at the club – better protection, and Parkinson admits stifling Grealish could be the key to success for his side tonight.

“Jack is a very talented player and there’s talk of him going,” he added. “The shape they play will determine how we go about stopping him but we’ll make our team aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and their key players.

“It’s important that when he gets the ball we get around him quickly because he has got that ability in that final third.”


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