By Graham Hill
IT has not just been a huge six weeks or so for Aston Villa – boss Dean Smith has also emerged with major credit.
Around the turn of the year, the whispers started.
Was this job ‘too big’ for Smith? Has the step up from Brentford being too great?
After all, the likes of Thierry Henry and Brendan Rodgers were spoken to before Smith who was impressing at Brentford.
With Smith taking over from Steve Bruce, Villa fans were always going to cut him some slack.
He was a Villa supporter as well and there had been a feeling that he should be given the chance.
But it did not go to plan at first.
New owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris clearly want Premier League football as quickly as possible.
And they might still get it next month.
But Villa current run of wins looked a long way off during a barren winter which produced just two wins in 13 games.
And it co-incided with the loss of Jack Grealish through injury.
Yannick Bolasie decided he had seen enough and ended his loan spell to return to Everton.
Smith was being asked outright if he thought he was the man for the job – and he could not even have a game of golf without someone telling him where he was going wrong.
But he is clearly made of stronger stuff, and January was where things began to turn around ever so slightly.
The arrival of Tyrone Mings on loan from Bournemouth changed things and proved to be a master stroke by Smith.
It took a month for him to bed in, but now his presence has helped plug what was a leaky Villa defence.
And giving Grealish the captain’s armband when he finally returned from injury was another great piece of man management.
Grealish is the player that brings this Villa side together.
And with his pal John McGinn responding, it means that even when Grealish is not there, the team follows his blueprint.
And other players have stepped up to the plate whereas before they had looked decidedly ordinary.
Amed Elmohamady, Anwar El-Ghazi and Neil Taylor are among the players who have improved immensely.
You could argue that this – with the exception of Mings and the revitalised keeper Jed Steer – is a side packed with signings made by Bruce.
But someone had to come in and get the best out of them, and Smith is doing just that.
His manager of the month award for March was well deserved. And while Villa’s comeback is not quite in Tiger Woods territory, it is one of the season’s great revivals.