Judging by the regular season encounters between the four Championship play-off teams, this season’s play-offs will not be a dull affair. In the 12 games played out between Aston Villa, Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion and Derby County this season, in eight of the those games, a team has scored three goals or more, and there’s been four or more goals in the game.
If Dean Smith was asked which team he would have preferred to have faced, you could make cases for wanting to avoid any of the teams. Derby have the best form team of the other three teams (losing once in the last 12), West Brom offer the local derby threat (form goes out the window etc, etc), while if Leeds recapture their early season form, they’d be a handful.
Ultimately though, when you take a recent 10-game winning run into the play-offs, it’s a sign that you mean business and you’re the team others want to avoid.
Two legs against the Baggies?
That’ll do just fine.
Aston Villa vs WBA
West Brom 2 Aston Villa 2
Aston Villa 0 West Brom 2
I’d be very surprised if West Brom walked away with a 4-2 win on aggregate over Villa in the West Midlands play-off semi-final.
The key difference this time compared to the result at Villa Park is it’s now very unlikely that Villa would concede two without reply. The Baggies,, then under Darren Moore, coasted to a 2-0 win over Dean Smith’s team, that was missing Jack Grealish, and had Alan Hutton and Ahmed Elmohamady operating down the right-hand side. Tommy Elphick started at centre-back with Kortney Hause at left-back.
In their game, Villa were a team transformed with the return of Jack Grealish, as they beat Derby 4-0 to begin a 10-game winning run.
In terms of current away form, West Brom have one of the worst records in the Championship, based on their last six away trips. With only one win and a draw, they rank 22nd in the league. Villa boast the second best home form with five wins and their loss only coming when fielding a weaken team against Norwich City.
At the Hawthorns, in the earlier game between the two teams, only an injury-time hand ball equaliser rescued a point for the Albion. The difference between the current Villa XI and the one that picked up the draw is in the previous away game our defence contained Chester, Nyland and Hutton.
Mings, Steer and Elmohamady would be considered an upgrade, as they have been members of a much sounder defensive unit in recent weeks. It’s an important attribute since West Brom do boast two strikers in Rodriguez and Gayle, that have both scored 22 games this season.
West Brom are also the current top home form team in the division over the last six games, so Villa will want to take some kind of buffer to the Hawthorns.
Leeds vs Derby
Derby 1 Leeds 4
Leeds 2 Derby 0
Like Villa, Leeds United have made short work of Derby in the two games they’ve played earlier in the season. If Leeds were still playing with the same vigour as they were in the first two-thirds of the season, you wouldn’t be surprised if they repeated a 6-1 win over two-legs, but this time round it should be a lot closer.
Derby have only lost once in their last 12 games, winning six of those encounters giving them the fourth best form in the division over the last 12 games (and the top Championship form in the division in the last six games). Derby have also been the league’s top scorers in the last 12 games with 26 goals (Villa scored 25).
Leeds on the other hand have struggled, with five losses in their last 12 games. They are the lowest ranked in terms of form of the four play-off teams. Also, with 18 goals, they are the lowest scorers of the play-off teams in their last 12 games.
Leeds will also be disappointed for not securing automatic promotion after being top of the league at Christmas. Teams that have held that position in the last 10 seasons have been promoted automatically. Can they pick themselves up and find a second wind from somewhere?
If not, then Derby have a great chance to book a spot at Wembley.
Other Results Between the Play-off Teams
West Brom 1 Derby 4
Derby 3 West Brom 1
Aston Villa 4 Derby 0
Derby 0 Aston Villa 3
Leeds 1 Aston Villa 1
Aston Villa 2 Leeds 3
West Brom 4 Leeds 1
Leeds 4 West Brom 0
The relevance of previous head-to-head meetings from a Villa point of view, is dubious. For example, Villa haven’t played West Brom or Leeds, with arguably their four key players – Mings, Grealish, McGinn and Abraham – all on the team sheet.
Still, they’ll be psychological advantages for Leeds over Derby and West Brom over Villa going into their respective semi-finals.
Based on previous results (see table below), Leeds would be deemed the clear favourites in the play-off race.
Table of Results Against Each Other
Hopefully though, previous results will only have historical significance.
Surely a team’s current form judged over the past couple of months is more relevant?
Current Form – Last 12 Games
If we look at the tangible factor of form from early March onwards, Villa have had title-lifting momentum over the past 12 games. It’s the reason why many outside the Villa-verse are starting to favour their chances.
Derby too have been pretty impressive, with only Villa and the two automatic promotion teams bettering them. The fact that Derby have only lost a single game in their last 12, will give Frank Lampard and co, a big belief in their chances over two legs against Leeds.
Leeds would only just scrape in the play-offs on their current form over the past two months. They’ve suffered some surprising losses. Has the intensity of their approach worn off?
WBA also failed to kick-on after they made the surprise decision to sack Darren Moore. They were 4th when they sacked him and that’s where they ended up, after their owners were desperate for a late automatic promotion push.
It’s obvious who MOMS would tip to win the play-offs, with that said, Villans will geniunely have a lot more confidence in their team’s chances than last season.
Last year, the shadow of in-form Fulham lurked large over the play-offs, but with Leeds United slowing down and lacking a cutting edge in recent months, Villa are the team to fear. On top of their recent form, they have a healthy squad too with a first XI good enough to match many a Premier League team.
It’s looking promising, but there’s much work to be done.