Former chess champion Dean Smith is plotting a winning strategy without “queen” Jack Grealish at Newcastle.
Aston Villa skipper Grealish will miss a fifth consecutive Premier League game on Friday night with a shin injury.
Villa boss Smith expects the England ace and Villa talisman, 25, back next week after his side’s game at Newcastle.
But in the meantime Smith must produce some creativity without Grealish after Villa lost 1-0 at 10-man Sheffield United before drawing 0-0 with Wolves in their last two games.
Smith, a former West Midlands school chess champion, said: “I think I would describe Jack as the queen rather than a king.
“That is the strongest piece on the board.
“Jack being out has been an opportunity for others.
“But our results have been indifferent with Jack in the team as well as out of the team over the last eight or nine games.
“I think our results have been indifferent like many clubs in the Premier League since New Year.
“Not many teams have got any rhythm.
“We put in a really good performance without Jack at Leeds.
“Should have got a result against Sheffield United without him.
“I don’t think anyone should have been surprised that there were few chances in the game against Wolves such were the last games against them.
“It was always going to be a tight affair against two decent teams in the Premier League.”
Smith takes Villa to Newcastle with the hosts in the grip of a crisis after just two wins in 18 games.
It has left boss Steve Bruce,60, facing heavy flak from fans and also some of his own players after a bust-up with Matt Ritchie, who apologised.
But Smith, who succeeded Bruce at Villa in October 2018, expects Newcastle to stay up again after coming 13th last term.
Smith,49, who guided Villa to 17th last term on the final day, reflected: “Steve certainly doesn’t need any advice from me.
“I am a young pup compared to the amount of games he has managed – certainly at this level.
“I have total respect for him.
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“You look at where they finished in the league table last season and we would have loved to have been where they were.
“It is one of a number of clubs that due to Fulham’s results have been dragged into a battle for relegation looking over their shoulders.
“But with the experience that Steve and his coaching staff have got, I am sure they will pull themselves out of it.”