With their 1-0 win against Millwall, Dean Smith’s Aston Villa team again proved itself to be more resilient than the version that had struggled to find wins earlier in the year.
Despite missing their 25-goal man Tammy Abraham and fielding only one recognised centre-back, Villa got on with the job in hand and produced their 10th straight win to clinch a Championship play-off berth.
While the win against Millwall could have been more convincing, it was ultimately useful practice defending a single goal lead with the tension of the play-offs looming fast.
Getting to the play-offs offers very little reward in itself, but it now provides Smith with the chance of achieving the promotion obsession he referred to when he first took over the Villa Head Coach job.
In the meantime, here’s five reasons to be cheerful as Villa fans…
It seemed impossible even at the end of February that Villa could reach the play-offs, but as the daffodils began to arrive, so did Villa’s minor miracle of a long winning run.
Inspired by the return of Jack Grealish and a defence that finally came together to make sure that Villa’s attacking endeavour was rewarded with maximum points, Villa’s recent winning run of 10-games has been outstanding in presenting the club with a gilt-edge chance of returning to the Premier League.
Cast your mind back three years ago and Aston Villa had shockingly just slipped to their tenth league defeat in a row after losing 4-2 at home to Southampton. During the game, Villa supporters in attendance let their feelings be known about the mismanagement that had besieged their club on and off the field.
Experiencing such calamity at the club only makes the recent 10-straight wins feel sweeter. Ultimately, only promotion will atone for the mistakes of the past, but Villa have shown resilience and focus to keep the run going and they now know they are potentially five games away from returning whence they came.
OTD 23rd April 2016: #AVFC 2 Southampton 4. Villa managed by caretaker manager Eric Black slipped to their 10th straight defeat. Fans protest on 74th minute, paper planes on pitch, boos etc. Bottom of league with 16 pts from 36 games. Fast forward 3 years – TEN STRAIGHT WINS. UTV pic.twitter.com/5cJIatZepk— My Old Man Said (@oldmansaid) April 23, 2019
When Villa appointed Dean Smith, MOMS had joked that it was a good job that the ex-Brentford Head Coach had put on his CV that he was a Villa fan, because in seven seasons his highest ever finish in a league campaign was 9th.
This season will be Smith’s highest finish (most likely 5th) of his managerial career, which considering the players at his disposal in this league, it should be. Still, beyond instilling his ethos into the team, Smith had to fix the defensive issues, shake up the existing complacency in the squad and drill into the players the work ethic it would require to get out of the league.
The serious question that the initial joke posed was the matter of Smith’s winning pedigree. A sound footballing ideology is one thing, but ultimately he has to be a winner too to achieve Villa’s objectives.
In recent times, Sheffield United’s Chris Wilder has demonstrated being a winner on a limited budget throughout his career at Oxford United, Northampton and now the Blades. The Crowley brothers at Lincoln City have also proven themselves to be serial winners.
It’s something in a manager’s DNA that can transcend divisions.
Smith’s approach to football perhaps ultimately lacked the kind of pragmatism for the lower leagues, and was perhaps going to benefit and flourish from working with a better standard of players.
Villa’s Head Coach admitted himself, he would probably only get a chance to manage in the Premier League, if he won promotion into it.
Thankfully, he now has an excellent chance to fulfil this ambition with the club he supports.
While we’re on the subject of personal bests, this is the first time that Aston Villa have recorded a winning run of 10 league games in their history. Respect.
A lot has changed since Villa won the top tier league title in 1980/81 using just 14 players. Now with the added number of substitutes allowed and the intensity of the game, it’s successful squads that tend to triumph in league campaigns and Villa’s squad is certainly starting to chip in for the promotion cause.
Villa’s centre-back issues are well known and even with January reinforcements in the shape of Tyrone Mings, Kortney Hause and the recall of Tommy Elphick, Villa in the past few games have relied on Mile Jedinak filling in at the back.
Jedinak has been good value in both the Millwall and Bristol City, when he has played 90 minutes in the position.
Likewise, in Tammy Abraham’s absence, after impressing off the bench against Rotherham, Jonathan Kodjia managed to fill in and score the winner against Millwall to keep the Villa run going and suggest he too may still have a role to play in the play-offs.