‘Realistically speaking, Villa would need a collapse from their West Midland’s neighbours to finish ahead of them.’
MOMS has already looked at the main reason automatic promotion is so much more preferable for Aston Villa, when it comes to planning for next season, but is it realistic?
We look at the teams most likely and the obstacles in the way for them and what Villa have to do to pip them all.
Can Wolves Finish Outside the Top Two?
Highly unlikely. After a wobble of one win in their last five games, the Dog Heads have a couple of soft home games against strugglers Reading and Burton to steady the ship.
“Some have said it’s the best team there’s ever been in the Championship,” said Bruce, after the game, so who can realistically take points off them?
Well, Forest proved they can have off days, when they beat them 2-0 at Molineux, but you wouldn’t expect Wolves to let their guard slip so easily again.
Middlesbrough away could be a tricky tie for them at the end of March, with the North East club winning their last four home games.
Wolves are away to Cardiff and at home to Derby in April, beyond that, most of the rest of their games are routine.
If Wolves lost all of those three difficult games, then Villa would still have to win all their remaining games to overtake them in the table.
Realistically speaking, Villa would need a collapse from their West Midland’s neighbours to finish ahead of them.
That said, Cardiff City are only three points off Wolves and have them to play at home, so they are still in with a shout of catching them in terms of the title, but Cardiff have a potential minefield of away fixtures to come.
Cardiff or Villa for 2nd?
Lets say for argument’s sake Wolves win the league, as most people expect them to (although we haven’t given up just yet). If Villa win their game in hand over QPR in midweek, that will leave them four points ahead of the league’s form team of 2018, Fulham.
We’ll, talk Fulham in a second, but who’s going to finish higher out of Villa and Cardiff?
Well, Cardiff have to visit Villa Park, but before that, their two matches this week are tricky away trips to Brentford (only lost two at home this season) and Derby County (who despite stuttering recently, have taken points from 14 out of 18 home games).
If Cardiff win both their away fixtures this week, then Cardiff are probably going to challenge Villa to the end. Realistically though, you’d expect them to drop at least a couple of points.
If Villa can then beat both QPR (H) and Bolton (A) before the international break, then our destiny should hopefully be in our own hands.
At the start of April, Cardiff have away trips to Sheffield United and Aston Villa, before their home tie against Wolves. Their credentials for automatic promotion will probably be settled either way in this period of games.
Neil Warnock said after their 3-2 win against the Blues, that by reaching the points tally of 73, they had got to the amount he had set them to get in the play-offs this year. It’s a great effort considering his lack of resources and the fact he took the job in the same week that Steve Bruce did.
When you look at Cardiff’s remaining fixture list and the fact Villa have home advantage in the clash between the two teams, you have to fancy Villa to finish higher, despite Cardiff’s current four-point lead.
Fulham Are Coming
To use a Games of Thrones metaphor, Fulham are coming! They have been the immovable object of the Championship in 2018 and could bring winter to Villa’s automatic promotion ambitions.
Only a fool would write them off.
They have been the in-form team of 2018 in the Championship, winning 10 and drawing two of their 12 games.
Recently, within the space of a month, Fulham have impressively laid waste to most of their promotion rivals, with only Bristol City able to get a point out of them:
10th March – Preston North End 1 Fulham 2
6th March – Fulham 3 Sheffield United 0
3rd March – Derby County 1 Fulham 2
24th February – Fulham 2 Wolves 0
21st February – Bristol City 1 Fulham 1
17 February – Fulham 2 Aston Villa 0
It’s startling form in a period you’d have expected them to struggle.
Fulham now have a clear path in their remaining fixtures, with the highest team in the league left to face being Millwall, who are currently 10th in the table. It’s at the Den, and Millwall have the 6th best home record with only three losses, so it will be a tough game for Fulham.
Apart from that, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fulham finish the season unbeaten in 2018.
If you think Cardiff might start to wobble with their difficult remaining fixtures, Fulham could potentially over take them.
The bigger question though is can Fulham take Villa?
‘Recently, within the space of a month, Fulham have impressively laid waste to most of their promotion rivals.’
Taking Care of Business
For starters, Villa need to win their game in-hand over Fulham on Tuesday night. A four-point cushion will certainly help buffer Fulham’s charge. If Villa beat QPR in mid-week, then while Fulham’s 2018 form is pretty scary stuff, Villa’s will only be one point behind it. Thus, we’ve been pretty much matching Fulham blow-for-blow this year.
If Fulham remain unbeaten until the end of the season, Villa can probably only afford one slip up to snatch an automatic spot over them.
Villa’s away trip to Millwall on the last day of the season does not look inviting, especially with Millwall’s recent resurgence. Villa can probably live with going into that game needing a point, but needing to win it for automatic promotion would be a serious pain.
One of the big boosts of the emphatic home win over Wolves, will be the confidence boost it will provide the team going into tough home fixtures against both Derby and Cardiff in April.
Also in April, is a duo of potential East Anglian banana skins for Villa with trips to both Ipswich and Norwich.
There’s no doubt Fulham have the easiest remaining fixtures, and if they continue their 2018 momentum and stay injury free, they are a serious threat. In many ways, they’ve already done the hard work. It’s just a question of their bottle now.
Meanwhile, Villa are a different beast now and have their teeth firmly grit. They also have experience in their team and on the sidelines to tackle the pressures of the run-in, plus, the bigger fanbase to help push them over the line in games.
It’s certainly going to be an intriguing end to the season.
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Key fixtures before the international break
- Aston Villa v QPR (19:45 GMT)
- Brentford v Cardiff (19:45)
- Wolves v Reading (19:45)
- Fulham v QPR (12:30)
- Wolves v Burton (15:00)
- Bolton v Aston Villa (17:30)
- Derby v Cardiff (12.00)