The Boro chief said: “It has been a difficult week after Wednesday’s game (a 2-1 home defeat to Preston). The team was flat.
“I thought we were slow and sluggish in the opening 20 minutes, and we gave away three shocking goals. They had five shots on target and scored three.
“It was a great ratio for them but the goals we conceded were very poor and it was unlike us.
“Having said that, Villa are a top side and they have the momentum at the moment.
“The international break has come at a good time for us. It will be a break to clear their heads and get going again. We have to do better than we did against Villa.”
Dean Smith claims his players have a spring in their step after Aston Villa returned to the top six for the first time in six months. Goals from Anwar El Ghazi, John McGinn and former Boro winger Albert Adomah gave Villa a fourth successive win – the first time they have achieved such a feat for 13 months.
Smith, whose side are a point behind Boro, who have a game in hand, said: “It was a really good performance. They defended in numbers and it was difficult to break them down as they shut down the middle of the pitch.
“But we never stopped trying to go forward and score and, in the end, it was a very good performance. There is momentum as we have put in some fine displays of late. There is a spring in our step. There are eight games to go and there is now a smile on our faces.”
Aston Villa: Steer, Elmohamady, Hause, Mings, Taylor, Whelan, Green (Adomah 65), McGinn, Grealish, El Ghazi (Davis 75), Abraham (Kodjia 72). Carroll, Jedinak, Bjarnason, Kalinic.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Ayala, Flint, Fry, Shotton (Downing 32), Mikel, Saville, Friend, Howson, Wing (Assombalonga 49), Hugill (Fletcher 62). Unused substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Clayton, McNair, Besic.
Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).