By Graham Hill
DEAN Smith says Sunday’s clash with Norwich is a chance for players to stake their claim to a play-off place.
Smith will rest key players Tammy Abraham and flying Scotsman John McGinn at Villa Park for varying reasons.
Abraham has recovered from a shoulder injury but the Villa boss sees no point in risking him against Norwich.
McGinn is on 14 bookings and one more would earn him a three-match ban – ruling him out of any of Villa’s play off games.
Smith knows there is no point in playing them even though it is a game where Villa could stop Norwich wining the Championship title.
The Villa boss’s priority is promotion through the play-offs, But while the Norwich game is apparently meaningless for Villa, Smith refuses to see it that way.
And he expects the players who are called up to try and win the game with Villa unbeaten in 12 games.
Smith told reporters: “I wouldn’t call any game in the Championship a dead rubber. This is far from it.
“The biggest objective for us is promotion through the play-offs, we all know that.
“Players will get opportunities, simply because I can’t go risking John McGinn with 14 bookings.
“He’s not going to be involved. It gives an opportunity for other people but I’ll pick a team I believe can win the game.”
Smith know the battle to make it into the top six has not been an easy one.
And while the Norwich game represents a ‘breather’ in some respects, the Villa boss believes the hurdles his side have had to overcome over the past three months will make them stronger.
Smith added: “I think it might give us something of an advantage. It’s something we’ll continue to do.
“The other thing is we’re fairly fresh. We have the likes of Jack Grealish who had a period out during the season, Axel Tuanzebe too. There’s also the likes Henri Lansbury and Neil Taylor who have had periods off.
“We’ve got some players who have been in and out, so we are fairly fresh at the end of what is a tiring campaign when you play 46 games flat out.
“I’m looking forward to the games to come now and giving players an opportunity to put their cases forward. “It’s not just competition for the starting 11 but for competition the bench as well.”