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Gerrard has failed to inspire at Aston Villa but surely he will avoid relegation catastrophe?

“I’m concerned about Villa every minute of every day and I’ll continue to be concerned and focused for every minute moving forward.”

Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard.
Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard.
Image: PA

THERE IS A cruel irony for Dean Smith that Norwich City’s relegation from the Premier League could be confirmed against Aston Villa tomorrow afternoon.

They are his boyhood club, who sacked him on 7 November after a fifth successive defeat left them in 17th place, two points above the relegation zone.

The departure of Jack Grealish to Manchester City for a British record £100 million last summer led to Villa reinvesting that cash on, primarily, Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings.

Performances, and results, quickly went into a tailspin and once their Premier League status was in danger the Villa ownership acted swiftly.

Smith was relieved of his duties and four days later former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was confirmed as his successor, with ex-Anfield chief-executive Christian Purslow, now in situ at Villa Park, hailing his arrival from Rangers.

This year we have not seen the continuous improvement in results, performances and league position which we have all been looking for,” Purslow said. “For this reason we have decided to make a change now to allow time for a new head coach to make an impact.”

It was immediate, with two wins from his first two games, but since then the enthusiasm has waned.

The fact Gerrard will be just as keen as Smith for this season to finish tells you all you need to know about how things have gone over the course of the first five and a half months of his tenure.

On the face of it, being eight points clear of the bottom three with six games left, they should be well clear of relegation.

But they have to play Burnley, who are only six points behind them, twice in their final run-in due to re-arranged fixtures.

“As a manager he’s fantastic,” captain Tyrone Mings insisted recently. “He’s crystal clear in terms of how he wants us to play, the team he wants us to be and the values he wants us to stand for. When the messaging is so clear, you know exactly what you’re buying into, how to buy into it and how to deliver what he wants.

And then when you step on to the pitch, it’s up to you whether you do it or not. Steven Gerrard the manager is pushing us to limits that maybe some of the team didn’t know we could go to. We’ve had the emergence of some really good young players, while for some more established players, their game has gone to another level.”

That level, so far, is from 17th to 15th, taking 31 points from 21 games and managing eight victories (four in their last 15), 10 defeats and three draws.

The most recent of those, a 0-0 stalemate away to Leicester City last weekend, ended a four-game losing run. A sign of the drift towards the tail end of a campaign that will lead to further change in the summer.

This Villa squad is not one which had been assembled by Gerrard and the inconsistent nature of their results would suggest it will not be one he relies on for much longer – whether the on-loan Philippe Coutinho signs on permanently also remains to be seen.

britain-soccer-premier-league A frustrated Dean Smith. Source: Jon Super

That could be another void to fill.

Gerrard will be supported by the Villa hierarchy and while his powers of inspiration as a player at Anfield were legendary, they do no seem to be working on those under his stewardship currently.

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He was one of five new managerial appointments in the Premier League last November – Smith took the reins at Norwich four days after Gerrard got settled in Birmingham – and one of 10 changes throughout the division.

The bottom six have all culled the man in charge – in Watford’s case twice – and compared to Newcastle’s revival under Eddie Howe no club has witnessed such an upturn since wielding the axe.

newcastle-united-v-wolverhampton-wanderers-premier-league-st-james-park Eddie Howe (right) with Joelinton. Source: PA

Ralf Rangnick has been a lame duck as Manchester United interim and while Antonio Conte has given Tottenham a fighting chance of a top four finish, consistency has still be their enemy.

Newcastle have found it under Howe – appointed two days before Gerrard – and boosted by the financial muscle of their new Saudia ownership, they recruited smartly rather than extravagantly in January and to rocket up to ninth in the table.

“I only look forward and I only look up,” Gerrard said earlier today in his pre-match press conference. “Tomorrow poses a strong opportunity for us to put in a strong home win. I’m sure the table will look completely different come the final whistle tomorrow, if we put in the performance which deserves that.

“I’m concerned about Villa every minute of every day and I’ll continue to be concerned and focused for every minute moving forward.”

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