By Kris Woodward
A month ago, Aston Villa suffered a limp 2-0 loss to West Bromwich at Villa Park. With only one win in 2019, against bottom club Ipswich, the majority of Villa fans would have taken the end of the season there and then. To be put out of their misery, so the club could focus on preparing for a 4th season in the Championship.
Enter Jack Grealish…
Since his first start back in the 4-0 win against Derby County, Villa have won four matches on the trot and picked up some impressive results against good opposition (and the Blues), as well as three clean sheets along the way.
To look at those fixtures and see the likes of play-off contenders Derby, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough and even the trip St Andrews (where Villa haven’t won since they’ve been in the Championship), Villa fans would’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst.
Now though, Villa are more than good value for a wager and if you’re looking to place a bet on play-offs, BetOTG have you covered with their comprehensive guide on every bookmaker with exclusive offers and enhanced odds.
It would be unfair on the other players to put this turn in form solely down to the return of Grealish.
John McGinn and Connor Hourihane both had big influences in the wins over Forest and Derby, both picking up a brace each across the games.
However, Grealish’s return seems to have galvanised and sparked the team around him into life, and without a doubt, Villa look a completely different side with him in the starting XI.
The 23-year-old very much seems to be the key that unlocks the potential of Dean Smith’s team.
It’s also worth noting the seemingly genius move of the Villa Head Coach of making Grealish his captain. A decision that surprised all Villa fans against Derby, but one that has no doubt paid off.
[Staff at the club have previously told MOMS, that Grealish responds well to responsibility, from Tim Sherwood’s time at the club onwards – Ed]
If James Chester or Alan Hutton were to return, I’m not sure many Villans would want the armband taken away from Grealish just yet, if at all.
The Dreaded P-word
A magnificent run of four wins on the bounce, has catapulted Aston Villa right back into the playoff race.
Villa go into the international break occupying 6th spot (57 points), albeit on goal difference.
However, Derby (8th– 56 points) have a game in hand whilst Bristol City (9th– 55 points) have two. Villa will also be watching over their shoulder at an in-form Preston and a revitalised and unbeaten Sheffield Wednesday under Steve Bruce.
A look at the run in
5th – P37 Pts 58
Remaining Fixtures: Norwich, Bristol City, Swansea City, Bolton, Hull, Stoke, Nottingham Forest, Reading, Rotherham
Villa’s recent emergence on the play-off scene will be making Tony Pulis very nervous, as his Boro team have encountered a poor patch of form. Three losses on the spin and only one home win in five, will be a cause for concern.
Boro’s upcoming back-to-back home games vs Norwich and Bristol City will probably set the tone for their fate.
Once a banker for the play-offs, now Boro could be in big trouble.
6th– P38 Pts 57
Remaining Fixtures: Blackburn, Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol City, Bolton, Milwall, Leeds United, Norwich City
There’s a decent proportion of the run-in that looks very winnable. A point at Wednesday would be good enough result, if Bruce’s men are to continue their uplift in form. The chance to terminate Bristol City’s play-off hopes at Villa Park is a welcome fixture too.
As for the Leeds and Norwich sting in the fixture tail? Hopefully, at least one, if not two of them, will be promoted by the time Villa play them.
That said, Villa won’t fear either of them.
7th– P38 Pts 57
Remaining Fixtures: Reading, Sheffield United, Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Ipswich, Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday, Brentford.
One of the real form sides in the league in 2019. Since their 2-1 away defeat at Rotherham, Preston are 12 games unbeaten, in a run that includes six away wins and an impressive home win over Norwich.
While Preston have real momentum, whether they are a serious play-off threat will depend on how they do in a trio of successive matches against Sheffield United, Leeds and WBA.
8th– P37 Pts 56
Remaining Fixtures: Rotherham, Brentford, Blackburn, Bolton, Birmingham City, QPR, Bristol City, Swansea, West Bromwich Albion.
If Derby are serious about the play-offs they’ll be looking at their next six games and thinking they can seriously book their place in the top six. Also, on the last day of the season, they could be at home to a Baggies team, who will have nothing to play for.
With a game in hand and a soft fixture list, Derby look to be a serious threat to Villa’s hopes, despite Villa beating them twice by an aggregate score of 7-0 this season.
9th– P36 Pts 55
Remaining Fixtures: Sheffield United, Middlesbrough, Wigan, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, Millwall, Hull City.
The Robins may have two games in hand over Villa, but they have the toughest of all the contender’s run-ins, plus, that extra fixture congestion.
It doesn’t look good for them, especially after not winning in their last five games.
10th – P 38 Pts 55
Remaining Fixtures: Stoke, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Leeds, Norwich, Bristol City, Preston, QPR
While you could argue that Steve Bruce has given Wednesday some momentum to become a play-off threat, a closer look at their 10-game unbeaten run under him, shows the Owls haven’t actually beaten a Top 10 Championship team during that run.
To get in the play-offs, for starters, Wednesday will certainly need three points against Villa, but with five of their remaining eight fixtures being against Top 10 teams, it doesn’t look like it’ll end well.
Playing both Norwich and Leeds back-to-back, when both will still be battling it out for automatic promotion, doesn’t help either.
From being down and out, Villa’s play-off resurrection is akin to Tyson Fury getting off the canvas to capture hearts and minds, after being seemingly sparked out in the final round by Deontay Wilder.
After recently beating four teams back-to-back that were in the play-off mix, Villa have completely redefined the race to finish in the top six. They’ve perhaps killed off the Blues and Forest’s lingering hopes, while denting Derby and Boro, along the way.
It’s hard to see Sheffield Wednesday or Bristol City ultimately challenging, considering their respective run-ins, but with Middlesbrough’s faltering form, there potentially is two spots open now.
Derby certainly are well-placed with a game in hand and a favourable fixture list, so you could potentially expect them and Villa to pip Boro to the play-offs.
Preston’s end of season may play out like Millwall’s last season, when after a great run, they fall at the final fence, when expectation weighs down an unlikely wild card leap into the play-offs.
For Villa, it’s looking good. With players returning from injury and Super Jack as captain, they will fear no team now – until the rest of the season and in the play-offs.
With additional reporting by David Michael