By Kris Woodward
Whilst Saturday’s convincing win over Derby County sparked a glimmer of hope in the eye of some Villa fans, the play-offs still remain a distant dream.
Six points off 6th and with only 11 games to go, four of those against sides in the top six, it would be some miracle to see Villa ‘there or there abouts’ to quote Bruce, come May.
If a miracle is to happen, it starts at St Andrew’s and the City Ground this week, where Villa will hope Jack Grealish can inspire six points to add to the three he helped bank against Derby.
Without promotion or the play offs, naturally many Villa fans will at the very least want to finish higher than local rivals Birmingham City, or do the double over them.
After two seasons of Birmingham flirting with relegation to League One, this season they have looked impressive under Monk, after a slow start. The Blues currently sit two points and four places higher than Villa in 10th.
This means worst case scenario and they open up a five-point gap, best case scenario and we leap frog them in the home stretch.
A 4-2 win for Aston Villa earlier in the season peaked Dean Smith’s ‘honeymoon’period for the club and saw Villa extend their unbeaten run against the Blues.
Aston Villa are unbeaten against Birmingham City in the league since 2005, when both teams then met in the Premier League. Since then Villa have played Blues 15 times in all competitions: winning ten, drawing four and losing once.
As mentioned in a previous MOMS article, Smith will be given the difficult decision of juggling the midfielders. Whelan, Grealish and Hourihane all played well in last Saturday’s win over Derby but McGinn, who has been a constant performer this season, is back from suspension.
Certainly if Villa beat the Blues, then Smith may consider rotating his choice against Forest in mid-week to keep them fresh and counter their space up front.
Despite the additions of Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause during January and Tommy Elphick returning back from loan, Villa’s defensive options look set to be stretched again.
Smith will be without centre back Tommy Elphick, who was brought off last weekend after tearing a ligament at the base of his foot. This is estimated to keep him out for up to six weeks.
Hause is expected to slot into that partnership with Mings at centre back, his more natural position. His form also has improved after a questionable start.
With Hutton and Chester also missing, El Mohamady is expected to retain his position at right back, with Taylor coming in at left back.
The main defensive decision for Smith will probably be who starts in goal. Jed Steer has been fairly comfortable in the last couple of games and it’ll be interesting to see if Smith keeps faith with him, or elects to bring back Lovre Kalinic into the fold.
Birmingham City come pleading to Villa
On a brighter note, it’s been reported this week that Birmingham City boss Gary Monk, this week asked Dean Smith to allow them to play on-loan Gary Gardner against his parent club.
Gardner, 26, despite struggling to get a real run in the Villa first team has performed well for Birmingham City this year, and has been regarded as one of their key men.
As you could expect, the question was met with a very swift and firm no.
Still, fully knowing the terms of the loan contract, it’s interesting that the Blues even tried to chance their hand.