Ashton Golding has vowed to put thoughts of overdue silverware aside as he prepares for a match that means more to him than any other when Huddersfield face Leeds in the Betfred Super League at Headingley on Friday.

For Leeds-born Golding it does not get any bigger than a return to face the Rhinos, his boyhood idols and the club for whom he made more than 50 appearances before making the difficult decision to leave to further his career in 2019.

“This is my personal Grand Final,” Golding told the PA news agency. “There’s no other game in the calendar that beats it. I live two minutes away from Headingley and I love Leeds, it’s my city, I was born there and I will probably die there.

“I’ll follow anyone that plays for any Leeds team. I’m fond of the Rhinos any day I’m not playing them, but as soon as it’s game day against the Rhinos, they’re my enemy and I’m a Giant.”

Having played at full-back for Leeds, Golding has proved a versatile interchange under Ian Watson as he looks to re-establish himself after two years battling a series of minor injuries.

The Giants too have shown signs of rebounding from a disappointing 2023 campaign and go to Headingley on the back of two straight Super League wins plus a stunning 34-6 success over Catalans Dragons in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

It was a result that raised plenty of eyebrows outside the Giants’ dressing room, but Golding added: “We know our own ability and we don’t need everyone else telling us how good or how bad we are.

“We understood that last year was not reflective of us and the work we had put in. We’ve got a group of good honest players who know they can all depend on each other, and we are excited to find out how far we are able to go.”

Huddersfield will face Warrington in the semi-finals next month as they look to book a second Wembley trip in two years. And victory would finally snag some silverware for Golding, who admits his experience at Leeds, when he was often benched for the biggest games, instilled him with plenty of hunger for more.

“I have absolutely fond memories of playing for the Rhinos, but it is also the experiences when I didn’t play that helped me overcome adversity in certain situations,” Golding said.

“Missing out on the Grand Final in 2017, 18th man in the World Club Challenge, it either makes you or breaks you and I felt like it gave me more. I think it was the best thing that I took away from Leeds and I can’t wait to go back there and play in that brilliant stadium again on Friday night.”

Portsmouth sealed a Sky Bet Championship return on Tuesday with a 3-2 win over Barnsley and several other teams still have plenty to play for as another enthralling domestic season draws to a close.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the promotion and relegation issues up and down the country.

Premier League

Neutrals are gripped by the first three-way title race in the top flight for a long time. Another twist occurred last weekend as champions Manchester City returned to the summit on Saturday, before Arsenal and Liverpool suffered shock home defeats on Sunday. With six games left, Pep Guardiola’s side hold a two-point lead over the Gunners and Reds.

At the other end, an intriguing relegation battle continues – on and off the pitch. Sheffield United, Burnley and Luton occupy the bottom three spots and, while the race appears almost run for the Blades and the Clarets have an uphill task to stay up, the Hatters’ survival hopes remain alive. Nottingham Forest and Everton – in 17th and 16th, respectively – are within touching distance, as both clubs wait to learn their fates after appealing against points deductions over breaches of financial rules.


It has been a rollercoaster ride for supporters’ of Ipswich, Leicester, Leeds and Southampton this season, especially in recent weeks. With only a handful of matches left, Kieran McKenna’s Tractor Boys are top on 89 points, with the second-placed Foxes a point behind with a game in hand. However, that fixture is against fourth-placed Saints, who are not out of the top-two race themselves with a four-point deficit to previously runaway leaders Leicester. Leeds sit third, with all four still in with a shot of automatic promotion spot.

Rotherham’s relegation to League One has already been confirmed, but two more spaces need to be finalised. Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield are in the bottom three on 44 points each. Birmingham sit one point above the two Yorkshire clubs, while Stoke, QPR, Plymouth and Blackburn would not consider themselves safe as they remain below the 50-point mark.

League One


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After Pompey claimed the title on Tuesday, all eyes are on which club will be runners-up. Derby are second on 86 points with a three-point gap to Bolton, but Peterborough, with a game in hand, cannot be ruled out despite a six-point deficit to the second-placed Rams. Everything could be settled this weekend.

Carlisle are already consigned to the fourth tier and Fleetwood’s defeat at Peterborough left them six points from safety with only two games to go. Port Vale are 22nd on 40 points, while Cheltenham are 21st on 41 points, but crucially have a match in hand. It means Burton, especially, and Cambridge are still looking over their shoulders, with the former only two points above the bottom four and the latter holding a five-point advantage along with a game in hand.

League Two

Mansfield joined Stockport and Wrexham in clinching promotion to League One on Tuesday, but there is still one relegation spot to be determined. Colchester’s win over Grimsby ended the survival hopes of Forest Green and gave the victors a four-point advantage over 23rd-placed Sutton along with a game in hand. Sutton need to win their last two matches and hope both Grimsby and Colchester fail to win again this season.

Having proved a model of consistency amid the relative chaos of recent seasons, Leeds second-row Rhyse Martin believes the time is right to crown his Headingley career with some serious silverware.

The ultra-dependable 31-year-old has only a solitary Challenge Cup success in 2020 to show for his efforts since moving to the club in 2019, and with his contract up at the end of the year, 2024 may be his last chance to lift more trophies.

But Martin is convinced he has already seen a shift-change in his side’s ability to chisel out precious points after three wins in four matches, culminating in las Friday’s fightback – ignited by Martin’s opening try – to beat Leigh from 16 points behind.

“To be able to find that rhythm to pull it back is impressive and it’s something that has got the team through in recent years,” Martin told the PA news agency ahead of Friday’s Super League clash with St Helens.

“Obviously to get a lead and grind it out to get the win is easier on the stress levels and we’ve probably had to find ourselves fighting back from deficits a bit too often for my liking.

“But I think in recent years we might have found a way to lose that game, and also the games against Catalans and Salford, so being able to close out games and get the two points is crucial.

“In previous years we’ve been one win from four, so it’s nice to be in this position. These early wins will help us in the back end of the season. Silverware is what you strive for because it’s what you want to look back on and talk about with your kids.”

Martin has been a virtual ever-present in an otherwise inconsistent Rhinos side over the last three years, playing at centre for much of the 2023 campaign, and adding his accuracy with the boot that saw him equal the world record for consecutive successful kicks in 2022.

But Martin’s status as arguably one of the most underrated players in Super League – and certainly one of its most successful overseas signings – may be on borrowed time with his future beyond the current campaign still unclear.

“I am off contract at the end of the season and at the moment it’s up in the air,” added Martin. “For me, nothing else has changed since I came to the club – I turn up and train hard and play hard.”

Martin, one of a growing number of PNG players in Super League, made no secret of his desire to be involved in a prospective Papua New Guinean franchise in Australia’s lucrative NRL.

Talks on funding a franchise team in Port Moresby are understood to be ongoing and Martin, who has represented his country at two World Cups, said: “If PNG got an NRL team it is something I’d be interested in, 100 per cent.

“I don’t know when that will be, so I don’t know in what capacity. But it would be something to play for them. It would be like playing for Manchester United, one of those massive teams that gets crazy fans everywhere they go. It would be something special.”

Daniel Farke believes Crysencio Summerville can get even better after the forward scored twice in Leeds’ 4-1 thrashing of Huddersfield at Elland Road.

The Dutchman – who also scored twice at Norwich last weekend – also set up a goal for Dan James as Leeds raced into a 4-0 lead during a dominant first-half display.

But Farke would like to see more from the 21-year-old, with the Leeds boss insisting: “In terms of end product he has improved a lot in comparison to the start of the season.

“I think he was already playing on a top level but it is necessary for a young player to develop so that he is getting goals and assists.

“(In training) We are always bringing him into situations where he has to finish, where he has to find the finishing pass under pressure.

“It is about consistency, so a really good week in terms of end product but come on, keep going.”

Farke was delighted with his side’s performance, adding: “If you are 4-0 up at half-time I don’t think you can complain too much.”

James fired in the opener from 25 yards as Leeds eventually made their early pressure pay.

Summerville picked his spot for the second as the visitors’ defence failed to cope with Leeds’ free-flowing style with forward Georginio Rutter once again proving a handful.

Rutter was involved again in Leeds’ third, laying the ball off to Summerville who burst from his own half to set up James who fired a shot across Lee Nicholls.

Rutter again provided the chance for the fourth Leeds goal which came in first-half stoppage time.

He burst down the left and cut the ball back for Summerville who had time to turn twice inside the area before beating Nicholls with a shot which went through a crowd of players.

Huddersfield were gifted a consolation by Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier who was unable to hold a shot from Sorba Thomas from outside the area.

Michal Helik had timed his move to stay onside and he fired in the rebound from close range with 70 minutes on the clock.

Huddersfield boss Darren Moore admitted his side suffered a disappointing day to end a poor week for his players on the back of a 4-0 home loss to Cardiff.

Moore said: “It’s a disappointing afternoon. It’s probably capped off what’s been a bad week for us results wise and in terms of performance.”

Moore felt his side missed the chance to get back into the game before Leeds got their second goal.

He added: “They went 1-0 up and we had a chance and if we could have capitalised on that… After that Leeds got two quick goals.

“We got into some wonderful threatening areas. When we got the ball around the Leeds area we just chose the wrong pass.

“The two quickfire goals from Leeds took the game away from us. We know they are a threatening team, certainly here.”

Moore was pleased with the way his players responded after the break, though, saying: “I made a couple of changes at half-time to solidify the team but the game just petered out in the second half.

“What I don’t want to do is lay the blame anywhere. We win together and we suffer defeats together as one.

“The team need to and will show better. We have to get back working and put this poor week behind us very quickly and move on.”

Alex Neil hopes Stoke’s 1-0 victory over Leeds helps to breed confidence and belief in his players as they secured successive Championship wins.

Leeds substitute Patrick Bamford could have put the Whites in front 15 minutes from time after being brought down by Ben Pearson, but blasted the resulting penalty over.

It proved costly as moments later Stoke striker Wesley headed against the bar and it went in off Leeds skipper Pascal Struijk as the Potters emerged victorious.

The win followed three points picked up against Sunderland over the weekend and Stoke boss Neil felt his players were energised after Bamford’s missed penalty.

Neil said: “When you go and deliver against two of the better teams in the division and you get six points off the back of it, and you can see how much the lads have put in, I think it breeds confidence in everything we’re doing and that belief is massive.

“I thought there was good spells in the first half where we used the ball really well, I thought there was a 20 to 25 minute spell where we were really on top and probably had two or three good opportunities, but we didn’t really take any of them.

“I think we got a let-off with the penalty, that was the one moment that rode in our favour and then we go up the other end, and I thought the fans completely blew the roof off once the penalty was missed, you could see our players get a bit of energy from that, and we went on and won the game.”

Leeds boss Daniel Farke felt his side missed the game’s biggest chance and Stoke took full advantage of that situation to net the winner.

He said: “You have to be clinical in using your chances and today we missed the biggest chance with the penalty and then you could feel for one or two moments a bit disappointed and the whole stadium was buzzing because we missed the penalty.

“They used this in order to create one or two set-pieces and out of the second they were able to score.

“This is football – we didn’t give one chance out of the game away in the second half, but because we missed this penalty and didn’t put the game to bed, we were for this one moment not switched on and they were able to use this chance and once they were in the lead with just 10 minutes to go, they tried everything, put their bodies on the line to block every shot.

“It’s the Championship, it’s relentless, so congratulations to Stoke and a hard-fought win but I also get the feeling you should travel away with points.”

Patrick Bamford’s penalty miss proved costly as Leeds saw their three-match winning run in the Championship end with a 1-0 defeat at Stoke.

Whites substitute Bamford could have put the Yorkshire side ahead at the bet365 Stadium in the 75th minute but fired over from the spot.

And minutes later at the other end, Wesley’s header clipped the bottom of the crossbar and went in off Leeds captain Pascal Struijk for what proved to be the winner.

Daniel Farke’s side came into the encounter with a 100 per cent record in October, while Alex Neil’s Potters were aiming for successive victories after Saturday’s home triumph against Sunderland.

The Potters had first sight of goal in the opening minute when Andre Vidigal swept in a low shot after meeting Ki-Jana Hoever’s cross but it was straight at Illan Meslier.

Vidigal nearly turned creator in the fifth minute as Ryan Mmaee tested Meslier as Stoke’s bright start continued.

Aside from a misplaced Jordan Thompson pass which they could not capitalise upon, Leeds had very little joy in the final third in the opening stages.

Hoever’s fantastic work on the right led to a dangerous cross for Vidigal but Meslier was once again in the right place, while Mmaee curled over shortly after as Stoke’s onslaught showed no sign of stopping.

Leeds’ first real chance came when Georginio Rutter released Joel Piroe into the box and Mark Travers denied the 26th-minute effort with his legs, before claiming Rutter’s header from the resulting corner.

Stoke’s penalty appeal was waved away by referee Paul Tierney when Mehdi Leris turned and went down under Sam Byram’s challenge on the half-hour.

Mmaee’s endeavour in the box nearly forced an opener in first half stoppage time and Struijk was alert to clear the danger as the ball trickled towards goal.

After the break, Joe Rodon was in the right place to cut out Hoever’s low cross from the right as Stoke continued to threaten, though Jaidon Anthony cut into the box at the other end and curled wide.

Travers was equal to Rutter’s low drive before the hour as Leeds grew in confidence, the Whites striker later firing wide after darting into the box.

Leeds substitute Crysencio Summerville’s first act was to curl a promising effort just wide after 70 minutes.

Bamford won a penalty 15 minutes from time when Ben Pearson brought him down in the box and referee Tierney pointed to the spot, but the striker blasted it over the bar.

And it proved costly as from an 80th minute Hoever corner, Wesley headed against the bar and the ball went in off the unfortunate Struijk for what proved to be the winner.

Leeds overcame Joe Rodon’s second-half sending-off to secure a goalless draw at Hull.

Daniel Farke’s men had the best chances of the first half – most significantly through the wasteful Georginio Rutter after 26 minutes – but they found debutant goalkeeper Ryan Allsop in inspired form.

Leeds supporters will have expected their team to kick on after the restart, but they were always up against it once Rodon was dismissed for a second bookable offence on the hour.

Hull head coach Liam Rosenior will be satisfied that their promising start to the season continued, now unbeaten since the opening day at Norwich.

But Rosenior will have expected much better of his offensive players inside the final third – not least when substitute Adama Traore somehow missed an open goal with two minutes remaining in normal time.

Given both sides’ fondness for playing football firmly on the front foot, it was perhaps a surprise that the game began so sluggishly.

Dan James swiped one high and wide early on, but neither Leeds nor Hull fans had much to shout about within the first 20 minutes.

The visitors’ gameplan was also disrupted when Willy Gnonto suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by Crysencio Summerville.

Ironically, Gnonto’s substitution seemed to awake Leeds from their slumber.

And they should have opened the scoring when Summerville threaded a lovely ball through the middle to Rutter.

Allsop expertly saved the one-on-one with his legs, but Rutter should have scored.

Summerville might then have got in on the act moments later, but Allsop reacted well with a sharp tip-over from a stinging hit on the left.

Allsop also thwarted Summerville from 20 yards with a lovely save at full stretch from the Dutch playmaker’s goalbound half-volley after 42 minutes.

Leeds’ relative dominance – not from a possession perspective but in terms of chances created – continued soon after the restart.

James and Summerville had opportunities off Luke Ayling’s smart cut-back, but Alfie Jones and Jacob Greaves refused to yield with brave defending inside the six-yard box.

Hull, however, slowly grew into a game that changed once Rodon was sent off.

The Leeds centre-back was lured into a rash challenge on Aaron Connolly on the halfway line.

Having already been booked for a first-half foul on Jaden Philogene, referee Stephen Martin had little option but to show a red card.

Predictably, given their one-man handicap, Leeds were forced to retreat for long periods of the second half.

But other than Liam Delap’s powerful run and cross on the right, from which Connolly came within a stud’s length of connecting, the hosts were never especially threatening.

That was until the 88th minute when Connolly teed up Traore, but the Mali international extraordinarily struck the far post with the goal at his mercy.

Mason Mount made his Manchester United debut as Erik ten Hag’s side began their pre-season schedule with a 2-0 win against Leeds in Oslo.

The 24-year-old, who made a £55million move from Chelsea last month, played the first 45 minutes and impressed in flashes during a quiet first period.

Ten Hag’s starting XI was a combination of youth and experience, with Lisandro Martinez, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho joined by young prospects such as Kobbie Mainoo and Omari Forson.

Tributes were paid before kick off to former Scotland, Manchester United and Leeds defender Gordon McQueen, who died aged 70 last month following his battle with dementia.

Mount created a big opening in the 10th minute, passing in behind for Amad Diallo to tee up Hannibal Mejbri but the Tunisian was denied by a smart save from Leeds goalkeeper Kristoffer Klaesson.

Moments later the England midfielder was involved again, winning the ball back before attempting a delicate chip over Klaesson from 25 yards which landed on the roof of the net.

“I am sure he will contribute to the success of Manchester United because he is a quality player,” Ten Hag told MUTV before kick-off.

“In midfield you have to attack but you also have to defend. He will bring dynamic into our game. We need more dynamic in that midfield department.”

Daniel Farke took charge of his first game as manager of Leeds, who are preparing for life back in the Championship following relegation last season.

The breakthrough came on 67 minutes as 18-year-old Norwegian Isak Hansen-Aaroen played in Frenchman Noam Emeran who slid it past Dani van den Heuvel.

Emeran then turned provider for Joe Hugill to seal the win 10 minutes from time.

The Red Devils’ pre-season continues with a clash against Lyon in Edinburgh next Wednesday before they head to the USA for matches against Arsenal, Wrexham, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.

Sam Allardyce has replaced Javi Gracia as Leeds manager with four games of the season remaining, as the club bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League.

It is Allardyce’s ninth managerial job in the top flight and the sixth time that he has been appointed during a season, both of which are records.

The former England boss has taken charge of 537 Premier League games in total, which is the fifth-most behind Arsene Wenger (828), Sir Alex Ferguson (810), David Moyes (654) and Harry Redknapp (641).

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at Allardyce’s Premier League record.


Won 80, drew 66, lost 80; 35.4 per cent win rate

Allardyce made his name at Bolton having played for the club for a decade and won promotion via the play-offs in his second season as manager in 2000-01.

Bolton initially struggled in the top flight, narrowly avoiding relegation in 2001-02 and 2002-03, before enjoying a breakthrough campaign in 2003-04. Boosted by the signing of target man Kevin Davies, the Trotters finished eighth in the league and reached a League Cup final.

The team went from strength to strength after that, qualifying for the UEFA Cup for the first time in 2004-05 and finishing eighth again in the following season. After missing out on the England job to Steve McClaren, Allardyce announced his surprise resignation as Bolton manager with two games of the 2006-07 campaign remaining, while the club were performing well in fifth place.


Won 7, drew 5, lost 9; 33.3 per cent win rate

Allardyce joined Newcastle in May 2007 and began his reign with a 3-1 opening-day victory over his former club Bolton. Four more victories followed in the Magpies’ next eight games but their form deteriorated after that.

A run of two wins from 12 league games led Allardyce and Newcastle to part ways, with new owner Mike Ashley seeking to win over the fanbase by appointing Kevin Keegan as manager for a second spell.


Won 26, drew 21, lost 29; 34.2 per cent win rate

Succeeding Paul Ince as Blackburn manager with the club in 19th place, Allardyce – who had spent almost a year out of work – began to establish his reputation as the man to turn to in a crisis.

Blackburn immediately went on a six-game unbeaten run to move clear of danger, eventually finishing in 15th place. A 10th-placed finish followed before Allardyce was sacked by new owners the Venky’s midway through the 2010-11 campaign.

West Ham

Won 35, drew 28, lost 51; 30.7 per cent win rate

Allardyce dropped down to the Championship after his Blackburn departure by taking over at the recently relegated West Ham. Having signed several former Bolton players including club captain Kevin Nolan, he led the Hammers back to the top flight at the first time of asking by beating Blackpool in the play-off final.

He subsequently guided the club to 10th, 13th and 12th-placed finishes in the next three seasons, but his contract was not renewed amid unrest from supporters related to his perceived style of play.


Won 9, drew 9, lost 12; 30.0 per cent win rate

Allardyce performed the second Premier League rescue act of his career when he took charge of a Sunderland side languishing in 19th in October 2015.

Despite struggling to engineer an immediate upturn in form, the Black Cats went six games without defeat at the end of the season to survive in 17th at the expense of local rivals and Allardyce’s former employers, Newcastle.

This proved sufficient to land him the England manager’s job, but he famously lasted just 67 days in the role following allegations of corruption.

Crystal Palace

Won 8, drew 2, lost 11; 38.1 per cent win rate

Three months on from the England debacle, Allardyce joined Crystal Palace with the club hovering just above the relegation places.

The Eagles recorded just one victory in his first eight league games in charge, before winning six of the subsequent eight to climb the table. They eventually finished 14th but Allardyce decided to resign from his post, stating that he had no ambitions to manage another club.


Won 9, drew 7, lost 8; 37.5 per cent win rate

Allardyce reversed his retirement decision a few months after leaving Palace by accepting the Everton job in November 2017.

He lifted the Toffees from 13th to eighth in the table but left the club at the end of the season following further criticism over his style of play. Despite their improvement in results, Everton took the fewest shots of any team in the Premier League during Allardyce’s tenure.

West Brom

Won 4, drew 7, lost 14; 16.0 per cent win rate

After an 18-month hiatus, Allardyce returned to Premier League management with West Brom in December 2020.

Albion were counting on Allardyce’s familiar formula but his first four home games brought four defeats by an aggregate 17-0 scoreline to Aston Villa, Leeds, Arsenal and Manchester City.

A late-season improvement, including beating Chelsea 5-2 and Southampton 3-0 in back-to-back games, was not enough to dig the Baggies out of the hole and all hope was extinguished by the Gunners with three games remaining.

Allardyce stepped down as manager at the end of the campaign.

Gary O’Neil played down talk about any potential manager of the year nomination but expressed his pride after Bournemouth likely clinched Premier League football for another season with a month to spare.

The Cherries stormed to a 4-1 thrashing over struggling Leeds on Sunday to put any relegation concerns to bed with Dominic Solanke and Antoine Semenyo on target after Jefferson Lerma’s first-half brace at the Vitality Stadium.

O’Neil’s side have now drawn level with Chelsea on 39 points to all but secure safety with four games left, which appeared a long shot at the beginning of April when they were in the bottom three.

Since replacing Scott Parker following a 9-0 loss at Anfield in August, Bournemouth’s rookie boss has won 10 matches, beaten the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham and navigated several injury crises during his debut managerial campaign.

It has led to calls from Jamie Carragher, amongst others, for the 39-year-old to be nominated for Premier League manager of the year.

But O’Neil insisted: “I’m not interested but people will make decisions.

“If Mo Salah had scored his penalty (in the 1-0 win) and a few other things had gone another way, people would have been calling me the worst manager in the league and nowhere near ready for what was a big job.

“Fine margins and proud of the work the group have done. Proud I have managed to play a part with them and really looking forward to the next four to see how many points we can put on the board.

“I’m just really proud of a group I’ve worked with for quite a while now in different positions.

“To have had as many questions asked of them as they have, to have been written off by so many people and to get to 39 points with four games still to play is an incredible effort.

“I’m very proud of the group and that is everyone. Whether you have played one game, 34 games or been in the treatment room, physios, everyone has played a part. It’s been a big effort to get to this point.”

A surprise 4-0 defeat at home to West Ham last weekend increased the pressure on Thursday’s trip to local rivals Southampton but Bournemouth claimed a vital 1-0 victory before they put Leeds to the sword.

Having experienced the dejection of conceding deep into stoppage time in a 3-2 loss at Arsenal in March, the Cherries have responded with six wins from nine matches to all but guarantee their Premier League status with a month of the campaign to go.

“The players have suffered some tough moments this season,” O’Neil reflected.

“You think away to Arsenal and we were bottom of the league when we suffered that late goal so not many people saw us going on the run we did. A big effort from everyone.”

Leeds head coach Javi Gracia is under pressure only two months into his tenure but insists he has total belief in his young squad.

“There is only one way to try to change, to work and believe in the players we have,” he said.

“We are a young team and young players many times need this process to make mistakes and to learn from them, but it is something that in this moment is hard to accept.

“I believe in my players from the beginning until the end.”

Leicester boss Dean Smith sees similarities between James Maddison and Jack Grealish as the Foxes midfielder looks to emulate the former Aston Villa man’s relegation-fighting heroics.

Smith’s side are just a point from the Premier League safety line ahead of Monday’s crucial visit of Everton, who head into the encounter one point and one place worse off.

They know just a draw will lift them out of the bottom three on goal difference after Nottingham Forest’s late 2-1 defeat at Brentford on Saturday.

Manchester City’s Grealish played a key role in Villa’s escape from relegation under Smith in 2019-20 – they survived after being four points from safety with three games left – and Smith sees the similarities with Maddison.

“I think they are different types of players but similar characters, in all honesty. Both know that they’ve got ability and both want to push themselves to become the best,” he said.

“I think, when you’ve got players that have that personality and character, they push you as coaches and you want to go and help them become better players. James seems to have that as well.

“He’s always looking to see what he can do better. He’s really engaging in the meetings we have and tactical meetings and very vocal as well. I can see that similarity (with Grealish) of wanting to push himself.

“He wants to talk tactics with you, and football. He’s a football nut, a bit like Jack was as well.”

Maddison, linked with Newcastle, has a year left on his contract while eight players – including Youri Tielemans and Jonny Evans – have deals which expire this summer.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding their futures, though, Smith believes the squad remain committed to the survival fight.

“I’m getting that feeling from all the players,” he said. “They’re all in and they’ve committed to the football club, whether their contract is up at the end of the season or not.

“I’ve already said before, that I don’t know how many are up or who isn’t. I can just see a buy-in from what they’re doing in training and what they’re saying in the meetings.

“Contracts are not my department. My remit is to come in and keep the team in the Premier League, so that’s what I’m focused on.”

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