MATCH PREVIEW: Pulis alert!

By Graham Hill

ASTON VILLA boss Dean Smith knows how important today’s clash with Middlesbrough is – and it could prove to be a genuine six-pointer in the race for the play-offs.

Victory would see Villa return to the top six after they seemed destined to finish the season in mid-table.

Three successive wins have revived Villa’s hopes however – and a fourth would see them confirmed as genuine play-off contenders.

But Smith knows it is not as easy as that.

The Villa boss told reporters on Friday: “It’s going to be a tough game.

“They come here on the back of losing two games both at home, but I’ve watched both games and they had a lot of chances.

“They have quality players and we need to be at our best to keep them out.

“Defensively we’ve been really good in the last few weeks and we’ll have to be again.

” They’ve got Britt Assombalonga who scores and Fletcher who scored on Wednesday night.

“When you’re winning games, everybody is happy at the football club. It’s nice to get them wins in close succession, it tightens the league for us and everybody is in a positive frame of mind.

“Winning three in a row certainly gives you a lift. Living in the area and knowing as many fans as I do, it’s nice to see people with smiles on their faces.

But we have to make sure we don’t look too far ahead. We have to look at the next game, Middlesbrough are in a position we’d like to be in. We know how tough it will be but we know the rewards on offer.”

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