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Dean Smith expects Tom Heaton to return to training with squad next week

Sheffield United v Aston Villa – Premier League – Bramall Lane
(Image credit: Mike Egerton)

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith expects Tom Heaton to be back training with the group next week and that the goalkeeper will give him “a great problem” in terms of selection.

Heaton has been recovering from a knee injury suffered against his old club Burnley on New Year’s Day.

During his absence, Villa had now-departed pair Orjan Nyland and Pepe Reina playing in goal last season, then signed Arsenal stopper Emiliano Martinez, who has subsequently impressed.

Smith said of Heaton ahead of Friday’s home clash with Leeds: “His progress is ahead of Wesley (the Villa striker who also injured his knee in the Burnley match). He has had a more sustained injury than Tom.

“Tom is back with (Villa goalkeeping coach) Neil Cutler. I’m expecting him to be with our group next week and we’re looking at getting him some games.

“Obviously when he’s back and flying he’ll give me a great problem, and a problem I actually enjoy having.”

Heaton, who has three England caps, joined from Burnley in August 2019 and the 34-year-old subsequently featured in all but one of Villa’s Premier League games up to the January 1 match against the Clarets.

Asked about the conversation there was to be had, given the way things had gone for Heaton and how Martinez has been playing, Smith said: “You have those conversations with players all the time.

“The players’ job is to try to get into the manager’s thoughts, and I always say to them ‘it’s only my opinion that somebody is doing better than you, you’ve got to change that opinion’.

“My job here is to treat them as human beings and explain why I make decisions.”