Jack Grealish

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Smith wants ‘competitive’ Aston Villa following loss in PL return

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Despite a 3-1 loss, Aston Villa fought tooth and nail in their return to the Premier League against Tottenham, and manager Dean Smith wasted no time in affirming that that’s the integrity he expects from his team this season.

“We want to be competitive in this league,” Smith told the BBC following the match. “Next week we’ll be walking out at Villa Park – but we’ll be doing so with zero points and that’s something we have to work on.

“The better team won on the day in the second half,” he added. “We were perhaps unfortunate with the goals. Their physicality shone through in the end.”

Up only nine minutes in following John McGinn‘s left-footed strike, Villa defended their lead for more than 60 minutes in front of a vociferous Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, remaining narrow and compact in the back. Summer signing Tom Heaton, who had three saves throughout the 90 minutes, was heavily applauded and cheered by Villa’s traveling faithful for his superlative saves. Tyrone Mings and Björn Engles set a positive tone defensively.

“The first half performance and our defensive organization was very good,” Smith admitted. “They’re not Champions League finalists for nothing – they have a very well coached group of players. We’re always learning lessons, today’s game has set a standard for us.”

At the end, Villa’s defensive solidity and dangerous counter-attacks – powered by McGinn and captain Jack Grealish – weren’t enough to offset one of the league’s best in Harry Kane. Tottenham’s striker recorded a brace in the final minutes to spoil any chances of Villa walking out with points, adding to Tanguy Ndombele‘s memorable debut goal.

The newly-promoted side left North London empty-handed, yes, but with a good lesson learned. And while on the field, they made sure to send a clear message: earning three points against them will not come easy.

Report: Grealish will resist Spurs overtures to stay at Villa

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Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish rejected transfer offers last summer and it appears he’ll do so again after leading his boyhood club back into the Premier League.

Sky Sports says Grealish is prepared to resist the temptation to join a Champions League club and help Villa cement its status back in the top flight.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s move on ]

Grealish, 23, helped Dean Smith’s Villa run up the table into the playoff places, where the Villans knocked off West Bromwich Albion and Derby County to seal a place in the Premier League after three years in the Championship.

Spurs bid nearly $32 million for Grealish last summer and were expected to be one of a handful of teams hoping to pry the English playmaker from Villa Park.

Grealish posted six goals and eight assists this season, including a pair of assists in the playoffs. His Twitter account certainly reads of a man who is happy in his shoes:

Villa’s Grealish thrilled to lead Premier League promotion

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Jack Grealish has been on a journey.

He probably wouldn’t trade a moment of it.

[ RECAP: Villa 2-1 Derby ]

The Aston Villa playmaker has been with his club since he was six, and that includes the side’s first ever relegation from the Premier League.

Transfer rumors have abounded since that time, but the 23-year-old held firm through three seasons in the second tier.

Now, following a 2-1 defeat of Derby County in the Championship Playoff Final, Villa is back in the top flight. From the BBC:

“I’m speechless. It was such a hard game, but when I look around and I’ve got John, Anwar, I believe. It means the world to go up, we know where this club belongs. I’ve stayed here and we’re back there now. I’ve led my boyhood team to the Premier League.”

Villa started firing on all cylinders under manager Dean Smith, who took the reins in October. The Villans sat 14th, but rose all the way to fifth.

“It feels very good,” Smith said. “To be honest, the lads are a terrific bunch. They take on different ideas, they deserve it. I believe pressure is what you put on yourself, we work hard every day, the only difference is expectation. We’ve got two owners have got a lot of money, and are in it for the long haul. The potential now is massive.”

Fan who punched Grealish jailed; gets 10-year stadium ban

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The justice system in the UK has acted swiftly, as the fan who punched Jack Grealish on Sunday has already been sent to prison.

Paul Mitchell, a Birmingham City fan, pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to 14 weeks in prison. He has also been banned from going to any football stadium in the UK for the next 10 years and was fined $458.

Mitchell, 27, ran onto the pitch during the second-city derby in England’s second-tier on Sunday and punched Aston Villa star Grealish.

The Villa captain was knocked to the floor, but then had the last laugh as he went on to score the winning goal in a 1-0 victory.

[ MORE: Grealish reacts to being punched ]

Birmingham City have released a statement on the fan being jailed.

“Birmingham City Football Club welcomes the sentence handed down to Paul Mitchell by Birmingham Magistrates today. What he did was unacceptable and has no place in football. The Club can confirm that Mr Mitchell is banned from our home ground, the St. Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium, for life. And nor will he have access to purchase tickets for away games involving Birmingham City Football Club, or have tickets purchased on his behalf.”

“The Club has also banned another supporter for life for a series of vile and malicious Tweets on social media, relating to Jack Grealish and his family. The individual in question remains the subject of an ongoing investigation by West Midlands Police.”

Click play on the video above to watch the shocking incident, as three separate incidents involving fans running on the pitch took place over the weekend in the UK.

Glasgow Rangers James Tavernier was confronted by a Hibernian fan in Edinburgh on Friday, while Man United’s Chris Smalling was barged into by an Arsenal fan who ran onto the pitch at the Emirates Stadium in celebration on Sunday.

Players must shun pitch invaders or risk more on-field attacks

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Over the past few years, pitch invaders have become a constant bane of stadium security in the game across the world. The stewards guard the sideline and give chase when needed, but the publicity received often sways those bold enough to jump the fence.

Fortunately, the tamer version of the events largely outnumber the more aggressive ones, but no matter how sparse, the violent incidents are reprehensible in a manner that makes them inexcusable. The players are exposed on the field, and pitch invaders who evade immediate capture pose a significant threat if filled with ill-intentions.

Consider the incident with Jack Grealish on Sunday morning. The Aston Villa star, captaining the side for the first time, was rushed by a fan in the stands who sucker punched the 23-year-old in the head from behind. Grealish did not see it coming, and it is by nothing outside of blind luck that the punch was not more devastating.

Now consider the possibilities of a violent pitch invader reaching a player with a more sinister instrument besides his bare fist. If fans can sneak pyrotechnics into a stadium, they surely can work in a knife or a shiv or something worse. Just a single occurrence of that nature would send shockwaves through the soccer community and undoubtedly result in sweeping changes in stadium security and fan access to the game.

So what has buoyed fans to run onto the pitch at such a rate? Consider the aforementioned tamer versions of these incidents. Players with worldwide star power like Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo have all faced pitch invaders with clearly harmless intentions in the recent past, and have treated them with kindness, often interacting in a positive manner with these folks, even occasionally offering to take a selfie, sign their shirt, or give up their own clothing or gear. Often times those running onto the pitch are children, hoping to earn a moment with their lifelong idol, unaware to fully grasp the true extent of the consequences.

While those moments are precious and make for beautiful opportunities to praise the graciousness of the players, they have potentially ugly side effects. As the benign pitch invaders make waves across the viral community, it serves to spark and embolden those who may have more malicious intentions. In the end, it is impossible to know the true nature of a pitch invader’s intent until they reach the player they intend to target.

Players, therefore, have a responsibility to their fellow athletes to turn away and shun pitch invaders and allow stewards and security officials to do their job protecting those exposed on the field. As unfortunate as it is, the days of adorable moments between players and pitch invaders should end soon, or the game risks the safety of its players and the relatively generous access to their favorite clubs and role models they enjoy these days.

Pitch invasion has no place in the game of football, innocuous or otherwise, and when stadium security fails as the first line of defense to protect those on the field, it falls to the players to stop glamorizing the attention-seekers and do their best to dissuade any more violent encounters.