Aston Villa manager Dean Smith is confident his players will “finish the season well” after seeing what he claims are “real green shoots of recovery”.
Although Villa went into the break on the back of a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth to leave the club one point and one place above the relegation zone, Smith has every belief his players will avoid the drop.
“If somebody had said to me at the start of the season that with 13 games to go we would be out of the relegation zone, in a cup final and have more wins than Arsenal (seven to the Gunners’ six), then I’d have chopped their hands off,” said Smith.
“It’s a tough league, one in which it is difficult to build consistency because of the quality of the other teams in there, but I feel we’ve just started to build that consistency.
“Consistency towards the end of the season is a great thing to have. As everybody knows we had a big turnaround (of players) in the summer, and they’re starting to gel.
“I’m seeing real green shoots of recovery within the players and knowledge of how each other play. I think we’ll finish the season well.”
Smith is grateful for the break that allowed him to give his players several days off rather than heading away on a warm-weather training camp.
“For the first time we’ve had a mini break and we’ve seen a positive side to it,” added Smith. “I feel my players and my staff all needed that break.
“They all got five or six days off. It gave everybody a chance to have some time away from the place, and to clear their heads.
“We could have gone away and done some warm-weather training, but we didn’t finish until the end of May because of the play-offs, and then we started again at the end of June, and you don’t finish until the end of this May.
“It’s a long time to be together, and I just feel that sometimes you need to look at them as human beings, who have families away from here, have lives away from here, and we need that little bit of space away from each other.
“We spend an awful lot of time with each other. It was nice for me to give them that time to get some sun on their back.”
Smith, meanwhile, has confirmed striker Keinan Davis is likely to be available for the Carabao Cup final with Manchester City on March 1.
The 22-year-old, who only recently returned to action after three months off with a hamstring problem, sustained another hamstring injury in an Under-23 game during the break as he continued his fitness build-up.
Smith said: “It’s not a significant injury, and it’s not a recurrence of the old injury, which is the good news.
“He’s light jogging already, so hopefully he’ll be training in the week leading up to the cup final.”