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Aston Villa boss Smith backs Jota to become key man

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has backed attacking midfielder Jota to become more influential once he fully adapts to his new surroundings.

Spaniard Jota, a summer arrival from bitter rivals Birmingham, set Villa on course for Wednesday’s 3-1 Carabao Cup success at Brighton with his first goal for the club.

Smith is familiar with the 28-year-old’s creative talents having previously managed him at Brentford.

“Jota scores goals, as well as creating,” said Smith.

“I think he was one of the top assist makers in the Championship last season, playing at Birmingham. He will continue to keep doing that.

“When I had him at Brentford, I think he came back from (a loan spell at) Eibar in January and between January and the end of the (2016-17) season he scored 13 goals and he was on fire so he knows where the back of the net is, that’s for sure.

“He’s acclimatising, working with the new players at Aston Villa. We had a big overhaul in the summer and we’re starting to get better and better.”

Substitute Jack Grealish sealed Villa’s win at the Amex Stadium after 17-year-old Brighton defender Haydon Roberts halved the home side’s deficit following first-half strikes from Jota and Conor Hourihane.

The five-time League Cup winners were reward for their south-coast success with a last-16 tie at home to local rivals Wolves.

Smith added: “Our aim is obviously to win it. Everybody enters a cup competition to do that.

“The history of this football club is very good in the competition and we won’t take it lightly.”

Brighton boss Graham Potter selected an inexperienced squad for the third-round tie due to injury and illness, including giving senior debuts to 10 players.

Asked if there would be opportunities for some of those youngsters to play in the top flight this season, Potter replied: “We’ll have to see. Clearly there’s a step to the Premier League.

“But we’ve tried to work with as many players as we can with the group so we have an understanding from them from day-to-day, rather than assessing them from the (under) 23s because making an assessment from the the 23s to the Premier League is just a huge jump.

“This was more an experience, more of a base line, if you like, to see what we need to do to go forward.”

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