Aston Villa boss Dean Smith believes Ollie Watkins has the ability to reignite the club’s tradition of great top-flight centre-forwards as his side seek to maintain their promising start to the new campaign.
Watkins, signed for a club-record £28million from Brentford earlier this month, made an immediate impression by coming off the bench to grab one of the goals in the 3-0 Carabao Cup win over Bristol City.
And while Smith admitted a replacement for famous Villa names like Peter Withe and Alan McInally might be long overdue, he sees the 24-year-old Watkins, who scored 26 goals in the Championship last season – as a player who can step up to the mark.
Ahead of his side’s Premier League clash with Fulham at Craven Cottage on Monday, Smith said: “Normally the top strikers come from the top few teams and they have done over recent years but in Ollie we believe we have a player who can go out and score an awful lot of goals.
“You have to go back to Christian Benteke, Peter Withe and Alan McInally – there’s a lot of Aston Villa fans waiting for that player who is going to score the goals.
“He walked off the pitch at Bristol City after playing for 20 minutes having scored one and he thought he should have scored three. That’s the sort of player I want to see at this football club.
“Anybody who comes to Aston Villa as a centre-forward will have pressure put on them straight away, but some people can thrive on that pressure and he is certainly one who I believe can.”
Smith acknowledged a mood of cautious optimism is sweeping around Villa Park after kicking off their campaign with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United on Monday night.
And while he is convinced his side has a different look about it than in previous seasons, he is only too aware that there is no room for complacency in a squad which he hopes to boost with at least one more new signing before the transfer window slams shut.
Smith added: “It’s only early stages, we’ve only had one Premier League game and a couple of Carabao Cup games.
“We’ve started well and what Thursday night gave me was certainly a lot of food for thought.
“The players who hadn’t played in the first Premier League game all performed really well and showed me they’re pushing for places in the Premier League.
“The players who started against Sheffield United know they’re going to have to be on their toes to keep their shirts.”
Smith will bring back his big names after making wholesale changes for the clash with the Championship side, and has no new injury worries although Bjorn Engles (Achilles), Wesley and Tom Heaton (both knee) remain sidelined.