Spotlight on Grealish as he returns to West Ham

Spotlight on Jack Grealish as Aston Villa star returns to the scene where he steered the club to safety on the final day of last season – with Dean Smith set to keep him as captain for West Ham trip despite midfielder pleading guilty to driving charges

  • Jack Grealish will captain Aston Villa for Monday’s return trip to West Ham
  • Grealish will keep the armband despite pleading guilty to charges last week 
  • He has fond memories of London Stadium after their relegation escape last term

Jack Grealish will be under the spotlight as Aston Villa return to the scene of their most important game in recent history.

Grealish, who scored the goal at West Ham that kept Villa up on the final day of last season, is expected to keep the captain’s armband for Monday’s return trip to The London Stadium despite pleading guilty last week to separate charges of careless driving and driving without due care.

He will be sentenced on December 15 and been warned he could face a driving ban.

Jack Grealish will keep the captain’s armband for Aston Villa’s trip to West Ham on Monday

Grealish will be sentenced on December 15 after pleading guilty to separate charges of careless driving and driving without due care – he crashed his Range Rover back in March

Smith wouldn’t answer questions on his star player on Saturday but facing West Ham again brings back happy memories of an emotional day in July when Villa drew 1-1 to finish a point outside the relegation zone.

‘It was probably a bigger achievement than promotion the previous season,’ reflected Smith.

‘There was an awful lot on our shoulders that day because the everybody’s hard work would have been put back 12 months had we got relegated.

‘It was a one-off game and I knew the enormity of it but I can become quite analytical in those situations and stayed fairly calm.

‘If I’d brought that enormity into the game, I’d be putting it on the players as well. I told them not to think about the effects of what could happen and went into the game fairly confident because of our performances in the games before.

‘Having said that, I definitely didn’t look calm on the touchline!’

Asked whether Grealish had tried to slip in some “dodgy shots” in that night’s celebrations, Smith quipped: ‘He certainly tried!’

Villa have been able to build on their great escape. They spent £75million on Ollie Watkins, Matt Cash, Bertrand Traore and goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez though loanee Ross Barkley misses this weekend with a hamstring injury.

‘We are definitely better now,’ said Smith, whose side have a 100 per cent away record though they have lost three in a row at Villa Park.

Villa boss Dean Smith wouldn’t answer questions about his star player Grealish on Saturday

Grealish played a pivotal role by scoring as Villa stayed up on final day of last term at West Ham

‘I feel we’ve got eight or nine top players and others who can grow into that. It takes time to do that. You have to be in the Premier League for a few years before you have a squad of experienced top players.

Villa have kept a settled side this season but Barkley’s absence for three weeks gives Bertrand Traore or Conor Hourihane a chance to step up. ‘Players aren’t stupid, they will sniff a chance and as a manager you want a lot of hungry players,’ said Smith.

It will also be a good time for Egyptian international forward Trezeguet to find his first goal of the season having struggled in comparison with the ultra-talented Grealish.

‘Trezeguet is very important and it’s important he doesn’t get categorised alongside Jack because there is only one Jack and a lot of other clubs would like a Jack Grealish.

‘But his work rate is second to none. The lads joke that he runs in every day from his house! His work ethic and attitude is tremendous. The one thing he is disappointed at is that he should have more goals for Aston Villa than he has so far (7 in 51 appearances). He is creating chances and I start getting worried when he’s not getting opportunities.’

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