Tammy Abraham’s goal gives Aston Villa’s Dean Smith the perfect start

It was not without a jittery finish but for Dean Smith, a boyhood Aston Villa supporter, this was an occasion worth waiting for. In the end, a first-half header by Tammy Abraham, relegated with Swansea City last season, proved the difference as Smith celebrated victory in his first game in charge and Villa their first win in five matches, reinvigorating the promotion push their fans so crave.

Not so long ago, the former Brentford manager was one of them. Smith’s father, Ron, would show Sir Doug Ellis to his seat during 25 years working as a steward here, while he and his brother, Dave, would wipe clean the terraces in exchange for a pie and passage into the Holte End.

Smith may have grown up in Great Barr, four miles from this rocking stadium, but he knew he would be afforded no honeymoon period. A charged Villa Park was packed as almost 42,000 supporters, the fourth-biggest crowd in the country on Saturday, welcomed a new era and said farewell to Ellis, the club’s former chairman who died this month.

Before the almighty roar that met Smith as he walked out of the tunnel for the first time, the club marked the life president’s death with a stirring minute’s applause as flags on the stand renamed after him flew at half-mast. There was a deafening chorus of the home faithful’s adaptation of Ghost Riders in the Sky, as a teary-eyed and suited Smith received a hero’s welcome.

“It’s great to give them the first win, we want to try to get the bums off the seats here,” Smith said. “We are grateful for them all turning up in their numbers and it just shows what can happen at this club. It’s always a good start when you get three points.”

Abraham relished his role as the focal point of a three-pronged Villa attack, with the striker ably flanked by two wingmen in Albert Adomah and Ahmed Elmohamady. Swansea struggled to contain a revved-up Villa and on eight minutes, when Elmohamady stood up an inviting cross, Abraham clambered highest to nod home his third goal in as many games. Smith swivelled in the dugout, fist pumping towards the Trinity Road stand where his dad once worked.

A dream start almost got better too but neither James Chester nor Alan Hutton could connect with a low, teasing Jack Grealish free-kick. Swansea succumbed to what their manager, Graham Potter, described as a challenging environment for his young side, yet Villa were in the mood, John McGinn boisterous in midfield and Elmohamady enjoying a free rein.

They did not have it all their own way, though. Swansea should have restored parity when Connor Roberts galloped down the right before cutting back for Jay Fulton but the midfielder’s effort lacked conviction and Barrie McKay was too sluggish in his attempt to sweep home the rebound.

Villa had lost their vim until Abraham came alive in the box on the hour mark, smacking an effort goalwards only for Kristoffer Nordfeldt to make an instinctive save down to his right. He missed another chance to double his and Villa’s tally moments later after latching on to Yannick Bolasie’s cross at the back post but Nordfeldt again stood tall.

Swansea rallied, with Bersant Celina bending a strike just wide of the post before Ørjan Nyland, previously unconvincing, pulled off a trio of magnificent saves, denying Mike van der Hoorn, Fulton and Roberts from point-blank range as Villa clung on for only their second win in 12 matches.

Villa have rediscovered that winning feeling that has too often eluded them, with victory lifting them to within three points of the play-offs and seven off the summit.

“The clean sheet is the big thing for us – we have conceded an awful lot of goals,” Smith said. “It’s a tough league and it’s a tight league.”