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The Aston Villa XI Smith must field to earn 3 points against Middlesbrough

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With just nine matches of the Championship season remaining, Aston Villa have dragged themselves right back into play-off contention.

After sacking Steve Bruce in October and stuttering under Dean Smith since, it looked set to be a disappointing campaign, but the return of starman Jack Grealish has sparked a revival.

They have now won their last three matches on the bounce, seeing off Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest, conceding just one goal in the process.

This weekend sees them welcome Middlesbrough in what looks set to be huge match in that chase for the top-six.

Tony Pulis’s side currently sit in fifth place, four points ahead of Smith’s side, but the gap could be closed significantly with a Villa win.

Here, then, is the XI he MUST field if Grealish and co are to continue their top-six march…

Goalkeeper: Jed Steer

Steer has done a solid job in goal recently.

He has not been spectacular but unlike those who came before him has been far from error prone either, making him a reliable choice for the Boro clash.

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Villa have been very limited at right-back all season.

The Egyptian is currently the only player available capable of plying his trade there so it is a no brainer for Smith to play him again.

”Centre-back:

What signing he has been.

In the first half of the season, Villa had very little bite at the back and were getting walked over frequently, but MIngs has changed that almost single-handedly.

Centre-back: Kortney Hause

After an unconvincing opening few games, Hause is beginning to grow into life at Villa.

He scored his first goal in midweek and his confidence will be sky high heading into the Boro clash so he must start again.

”Left-back:

Much-like on the right of defence, Smith has very few options at left-back.

Against a team of Boro’s calibre, however, playing players in their natural positions is the only option so Taylor should retain his spot.

Defensive-midfield: John McGinn

What a signing this man has been.

He added two great goals to his tally in midweek and has been a consistent performer in what has often been a woefully inconsistent team.

Defensive-midfield: Conor Hourihane

Another important member of Smith’s squad.

Hourihane’s set-piece deliveries have provided plenty of goals throughout the campaign so dropping him now would be foolish.

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After an unconvincing display from Anwar El Ghazi in midweek, expect a change in attack.

Adomah has had a fairly unstable season but has shown to still have the quality necessary to cut it at this level.

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Well it goes without saying really.

Grealish has been outstanding since returning to the starting line-up and his presence seems to lift the entire squad.

With him in the side, you fancy them against opposition.

Left-wing: Andre Green

After a disappointing spell with Portsmouth, the way Green has returned to his parent club has been thoroughly impressive.

He played very well in midweek and it would be a big shock to see him dropped.

”Striker:

A consistent and reliable source of goals.

Even against a rigid defence such as Boro’s, you have got to fancy him to scramble one in from two yards out just from knowing where to be at the right time.

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