Back-to-back 1-0 victories over Cardiff and Leeds has ensured that Aston Villa will be in the Play-off Semi Finals. There is, of course, a remote possibility that Villa can leapfrog Cardiff and Fulham into the automatic promotion places, but that is going to take something in the realms of miraculous, which is reflected in the odds of 22/1 offered for Villa to finish second.
The Playoffs do indeed look like the only option left for Villa to gain promotion to the Premier League. If the season ended right now, that would mean a two-legged tie against Middlesbrough (4th vs. 5th), with Fulham (3rd) and Millwall (6th) making up the other Semi Final (the two teams meet this Friday).
Only Fulham and Villa guaranteed a play-off place
Any side as far down as Bristol City in 11th is still in with a shout, but for the moment let’s imagine that these are the final four. Who would be considered the favourite? Most major online bookmakers UK punters visit will find that they are split between Fulham and Villa, with William Hill putting Villa in as 11/4 favourites (Fulham 7/2) and 188Bet putting Fulham in as favourites at 5/2 and Villa at 3/1.
It should be pointed out that this may be slightly skewed due to the possibility of Fulham catching Cardiff.
What would Villa fans make of their potential opponents Middlesbrough, who come in as third-favourites at 7/2? Just as with Villa, most Middlesbrough fans will feel that they have vastly underachieved given their outlay on transfers and wages.
Both sides were the two favourites at the start of the season and could, and should, have been much closer to Wolves and Cardiff this season; anything less than promotion through the play-offs will be considered a massive disappointment given their ambition at the start of the season.
Middlesbrough have been poor against top sides
Middlesbrough form has not been great of late either, although they did record a stabilising victory against Bristol City recently (pretty much knocking out the Robins from the play-offs).
The most startling statistic about Middlesbrough – one that bodes well for Villa – is that their record against top six opponents is, frankly, awful: Middlesbrough have no wins, seven defeats and two draws in their nine games so far against sides in the current top six. One of those draws came at Villa Park, but Villa were able to nick a 1-0 victory at the Riverside.
Of all the teams currently in the play-off spots, Millwall will undoubtedly be the happiest to be there. After Fulham, they are the form side of the Championship in 2018, going unbeaten for the last 17 games.
It is still quite surprising that they have been given odds of 22/1 by William Hill to win the play-offs with respect to that form.
Of course, Fulham could make for very difficult opponents and have been in brilliant form themselves, being unbeaten in their last 21 games, but can they keep it going when the stakes rise?
Millwall must earn Playoff place
In a quirk of the fixture list – and arguably another big reason for Millwall’s long odds – Millwall last three games of the season are against Fulham (20th April), Middlesbrough (28th April) and Villa (6th May). Those are obviously three very tough fixtures, so if Millwall can hold on to sixth spot, you would have to say they will deserve it.
Picking a favourite for the Championship play-offs from that quartet is incredibly difficult. While it would be nice to point to Villa and say they will triumph, the quality of the teams involved really means that it will be difficult. The best sides don’t always win the play-offs. It underlines just how hard it is to get out of this division.
For Villa though, it’s very much promotion by any means possible.
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