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Saturday 7 December 2019

Boss Smith demands that Bruce gets respect

 

Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA
Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA

Dean Smith believes Steve Bruce deserves respect when he returns to Aston Villa tonight after ending his days at the club with a cabbage being thrown at him before being given the sack.

Bruce spent two years in charge at Villa Park, losing his job last October, just over four months after a defeat to Fulham in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Bruce's final game at the helm was a 3-3 draw with then bottom-club Preston at Villa Park, with Villa throwing away a 2-0 lead and relying on a late equaliser to salvage a point.

With Villa on a run of one win in 10 matches prior to the game, one fan opted to hurl a cabbage at Bruce - rather than verbal abuse - to express his disgust at his performance as boss.

Bruce returns to Villa for the first time since his dismissal as his Newcastle side take on Smith's outfit.

"I thought it was a disgrace," said Smith when asked about the cabbage incident. "You don't want to see that in the ground. I said that at the time."

Expressing credit for Bruce's achievements, Smith said: "I said when I took the job that I have an awful lot of respect for what he has done in management but, more importantly, for how he is as a man as well.

"This season, if you look at Newcastle at the start, there were a lot of questions about the club and where it was going. But Steve has gone in and done what he does best - got them organised.

"They've got pace and power up front. They are winning games - they've won the last couple - and they beat Manchester United at home as well. They are in a good run of form at the moment."

Smith was particularly impressed with Newcastle's last away performance, a 3-2 win at West Ham courtesy of a devastating display of counter-attacking which saw them romp into a 3-0 lead before conceding two late goals.

"It could have been five or six, such is the pace and power they've got in their team," assessed Smith. "They were outstanding in their counter-attacking.

"They've got really good organisation as well. They're tough to break down, but a real threat on the counter."

Smith's Villa had issues coping with Wolves' counter-attacking threat in their last match prior to the international break, a lethargic 2-1 defeat that has left the club just above the relegation zone.

Despite injury woes going into, and during that game, Smith is hoping there will be no repeat of such a sorry display.

"Our last performance away wasn't so good and the players certainly got a reminder of that," said Smith.

"We had a debrief about Wolves. We picked out some things that we have to get better at, collectively, and the players know they have to do better individually."

Smith has captain Jack Grealish fit again after a four-week lay-off with a calf injury, while goalkeeper Tom Heaton should also return after missing the Wolves defeat with his own calf problem.

Defenders Matt Targett and Bjorn Engels also come into contention after the former was taken off just after the break at Molineux with concussion, while the latter missed the game with a hip injury.

Steve Bruce is confident his Newcastle side can cope with the loss of Ciaran Clark should the defender fail to recover from a knock in time to face Aston Villa.

Republic of Ireland centre-back Clark suffered an injury while on international duty, and despite skipper Jamaal Lascelles also being sidelined until the new year with a fractured tibia, Magpies boss Bruce believes he has enough options at his disposal.

Florian Lejeune is in line to return tonight having been out of action since April with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Paul Dummett is in contention having featured on the bench in each of the last four matches, while Fabian Schar has overcome a knee problem.

Bruce said of the situation: "The big one is obviously Flo, because he's been out for so long. But he's done everything - he's played, he's got minutes under his belt on the training ground and he's ready to go.

"The same goes for Schar; as long as they come through the next two or three days unscathed then they'll both come into contention, and that can only be a good thing.

"There comes a point where you can't keep training and training and training; you have to be thrown into the deep end, if that's the right word.

"But (Lejeune) is a wonderful pro. He's the first in, the last to go and he's done everything he possibly can. He feels he's ready, and I think that's the most important thing - he knows his knee better than anybody. He's done all his minutes and he's ready to go.

"If there's anywhere on the pitch we're blessed, (it's in central defence); we've got six of them who are very, very decent at what they do. Touch wood, whatever combination we have put together have done OK.

"The competition there is very, very healthy and good, which is a good thing. We're losing one - possibly two - but we're fortunate because we can bring another two in, so it's not a bad situation."

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