Aston Villa’s Bogey Team
By Liam Reidy
After Brenford’s recent Championship play-off triumph to win promotion to the Premier League, Dean Smith will be returning to familiar territory next season. However the surroundings will not be quite the same. The year-old Brentford Community Stadium will be hosting Premier League football next season following the club’s 2-0 play-off final victory over Swansea City last Saturday. Smith will be testing his mettle against his successor Thomas Frank, as Villa fans are no doubt excited to add another new ground to the list on the way to the ambitious target of a European finish.
It’s fair to say Brentford were Villa’s bogey team during their three years in the Championship. In six attempts, Villa managed just three home draws and three away defeats, the final one of which coming only a few months after Smith had left the Bees for Villa.
That 1-0 defeat was sealed by a Neal Maupay injury-time winner, during a dismal start to 2019, when Villa looked destined for yet another season in the second tier. In fact, the last time Villa beat Brentford in the league was in the 1946/47 season (we haven’t played them that much), which coincidentally was the last time the Bees played in the top flight. It’s a poor record, and one that ex-Bees boss Smith will be desperate to break in 2021/22. It may just be the first fixture he looks for after they have been released.
Bye-bye Feeder Club
The promotion may signal the end of Brentford’s unofficial ‘Villa feeder club’ tag. Ollie Watkins, Ezri Konsa and (with far less success) Scott Hogan have all been signed from the Bees in the last few years. That’s without forgetting Dean Smith also made that same move.
Aside from the obvious fact that Brentford won’t want to sell prize assets going into their first Premier League season, Villa’s new and improved scouting and recruitment teams are now looking to cut out the middle man and secure these players directly from source. Villa’s signings last summer were unanimously a success, something us Villa fans have scarcely said in recent years.
The two clubs have similarities in the way they go about their business. Buy smart, get talented young players with potential growth both on the pitch and in terms of financial upside. Villa have moved away from the selling aspect, since returning to the Premier League thanks to NSWE’s ambition as owners. Brentford have an astonishing array of success stories in the selling department. Profit speaking, Ollie Watkins was sold on for £24 million (plus potential bonuses), Said Benrahma for £19 million and Neal Maupay for £18 million, and this is only naming a few. Both clubs also have Danish Sporting Directors, ever the fashion in this modern age. There’s no doubt the Bees are pioneers in financial dealings, the envy of other smaller clubs who wished they could do the same.
They’ll be no pushovers in the Premier League. They’ve been there or thereabouts (sorry for the Steve Bruce-isms) in the play-off places ever since they were promoted to the Championship in 2014. It was a case of third time lucky in the Championship play-offs, and tenth time lucky in their entire play-off history, for them to finally taste success in that format. They never finished lower than 11th in the seven years following that 2014 promotion, and it was always just a matter of time before they managed to get themselves over the line.
33-goal striker Ivan Toney leads the line, the latest success story after filling a huge Watkins shaped hole in the team this past season. It will be interesting to see how he fares after making the step up to the top flight. Can he hit the ground running like the now-England international?
The defence was solidified with the signing of Pontus Jansson from Leeds, who Villa fans won’t forget for his attempt to stop Albert Adomah walking the ball into the net during THAT 1-1 draw with the Yorkshire side in 2019. They will have to spend of course, as they have a squad seriously lacking Premier League experience and quality, and will require some knowhow in the squad you would have to think.
So, can Villa break the Brentford hoodoo next season? Will Smith, Watkins and Konsa be celebrating a win or two over their old employers from West London? There’s certainly six points there that Villa will be highlighting, after recent woes against the Bees.