Dean Smith has refused to blame the absence of Jack Grealish for Aston Villa’s lack of potency, saying their attacking woes began with the England midfielder in their team.
Villa are set to entertain West Brom on Sunday without Grealish who will miss a ninth successive league game.
The 25-year-old remains sidelined with the shin problem that saw him withdrawn from training on February 18.
In his absence, Villa have scored just eight goals as a season that promised so much looks in danger of fizzling out.
However, Smith said he can trace the fall-off in form back to January when Villa were forced to postpone two Premier League games due to a coronavirus outbreak at the club.
“The offensive side is what has dropped off, probably since the COVID break to be honest, even with Jack in the team,” said Smith.
“A few players have been trying to recapture the form they had before – Bertrand Traore, Anwar El Ghazi, Ollie Watkins have not been scoring as freely – but it is not for the want of trying.
“I have said many times my teams normally finish seasons well and I expect them to do so again this season.
“West Brom need to go and win to give them a chance of staying up and we need to go and win to make sure we finish this season as well as we started it.”
Villa, who have lost three of their last four matches, are looking to secure their first league double over the Baggies since the 2008/09 season.
But Smith knows his side will come up against a much-changed West Brom team to the one they outplayed in December, which marked Sam Allardyce’s first game in charge.
“A team who goes to Chelsea and wins 5-2, then you know they’ve certainly improved, so it’ll be a different West Brom to what we faced at The Hawthorns earlier in the season,” said Smith.
While Grealish remains out, Wesley could make his long-awaited return for Villa on Sunday.
The Brazilian striker has been out since rupturing knee ligaments in January 2020 but last week played just over an hour for the under-23 side and he may be included in the matchday squad.