Despite Jack Grealish’s wonder volley giving Villa a 1-0 win against Cardiff City, Villa’s realistic chances of automatic promotion are long gone, due to their recent slip in form and the emergence of Fulham, who ended the night in second place.
Villa’s start to the season, that saw them winning just one of the first seven games of the season, hasn’t helped, but a purple patch that saw Villa reel off seven wins in a row over the New Year and January, really needed to be repeated in the final run-in.
One win in the five games prior to the Cardiff win, wasn’t ideal, so the play-offs it is for Bruce’s team, bar remarkable collapses by both Fulham and Cardiff.
Villa odds have lengthened for promotion, but that should change, once the normal fixtures end and the play-offs start. You’d have to say the bookies will make Villa favourites to win the play-offs.
The current ‘to get promoted’ odds look like this:
Odds from William Hill as off 11th April
Wolves, of course, look certain to bag the Championship title.
While Fulham are the undoubted Championship team of 2018, a year in which they remain unbeaten. Currently second, it’s where they’ll end up, if they maintain their year’s form.
It’s not going to be plain sailing though, with Brentford (H) and Millwall (A) to come. After that, it’s Sunderland (H) & Blues (A), two fixtures that will become harder, if both teams still need points for survival, at the time of the games.
After back-to-back losses to Wolves and Villa, the question is whether Cardiff will now have a wobble and repeat their four consecutive losses of the Christmas period to open up third spot for Villa.
Cardiff burst out of the blocks winning their first five games of the season, dipped a little in the autumn and had a woeful Festive period, but they have tended to be very good in 2018.
Will four points and a game in-hand be enough of a gap over Villa, who only having four games left? It should be.
Yet, at the moment, it looks likely that the play-offs are Cardiff’s destiny.
As for Villa, well, their win against Cardiff should cement their play-off status. The squad – especially now it’s largely injury-free – is strong enough to pick up any remaining points that are needed.
In terms of potential play-off success, despite their recent troubles, Villa have shown they can turn it on in the big games against Wolves and Cardiff. So, they must be fancied. If you bet on Aston Villa with the best bookmakers in the UK, you can still find free bets for what still might be an intriguing wager.
But the big question now is, who will stand in their way in the play-offs?
Well, as long as they finish either third or fourth, so they have the 2nd leg of the initial play-off match at Villa Park, it doesn’t really matter to be honest.
All the remaining contenders are pretty much at the same level, although Millwall have the best form, but the level of their team will be put to the test in the coming weeks.
‘Tony Pulis armed with Adama Traore, could make Middlesbrough the Frankenstein monster of the play-offs’
Championship Play-offs Contenders
One thing that makes the final few weeks interesting is most of the potential play-off candidates will face-off against each other.
Villa have two potential dress rehearsals against potential play-off opponents, adding to the recent match against Cardiff City, if the Bluebirds end up finishing out of the top two.
Villa host Derby at Villa Park on 28th April and then end the season with a trip to Millwall. So Villa could potentially influence who finishes the highest out of the two teams, and in turn, determine their initial play-off opponents for 4th vs 5th in first round of the play-offs.
Derby, like Villa, were highly-fancied at the start of the season, but they stuttered and spluttered at the start of the season. They were capable of winning 5-0 one week, then losing 4-1 the week after.
They went unbeaten all the way from 2nd December to 13th February, but then they hit a run of poor form that compromised their automatic promotion challenge, not to mention their play-off hopes, until recent back-to-back wins got them back on track.
Derby’s run-in is tough, with several games against promotion candidates, plus, a local derby against relegation threatened Burton.
Wolves (A) / Burton (A) / Middlesbrough (H) / Cardiff City (H) / Aston Villa (A) / Barnsley (H)
They’ll need a bunch of wins to even make the play-offs, despite currently being 5th. Their key match will probably be against Middlesbrough, with a minimum of four points from their other two home games against Cardiff and Barnsley needed.
If Fulham are 2018 top dogs, then Millwall aren’t far behind, having only lost once in 17 games during the year.
After beating Bolton 2-0, they have finally arrived in the play-off spots in the knick of time, but now they face something akin to a tough play-off qualifying tournament to stay there.
Four games, all against promotion rivals:
Sheffield United (A), Fulham (H), Middlesbrough (A) and Villa (H)
It’s going to be tough.
They will probably need two wins and a draw to get them over the line, although away wins against direct play-off rivals United and Boro should get the job done.
If they pull it off, they will be the dark horse for winning the play-offs considering their 2018 form.
Tony Pulis armed with Adama Traore, could make Middlesbrough the Frankenstein monster of the play-offs.
Currently two points off the play-offs, they’ll first need to deliver a knock-out blow to the play-off chances of the team immediately below them in 8th, Bristol City.
After that, it’s also like they’re also in a qualifying play-off tournament with games against both Derby (A) and Millwall (H), that will go along way to deciding their fate.
Three wins on the trot and they might even be able to relax on their final day trip to Ipswich.
Their destiny is very much in their own hands, but they too seem to have left it a bit late, although could be dangerous in the Play-offs.
Bristol City aren’t out of it yet, but their away trip to Middlesborough is a must-win, before they can even think about Hull (H), Forest (A) and Sheffield United (H).
Bristol’s last game of the season could be a play-off decider for Sheffield United too, who currently sit in 9th on the same points as Bristol City.
United’s next game is a home clash with Millwall and it’s a game they must win to have a realistic chance of setting up gate crashing the play-offs. Their recent home win against Middlesborough will definitely give them some belief.
Before their final day of the season trip to Bristol, they also have to tackle the Blues (A) and Preston (H).
Brentford, currently in 10th and four points off the play-offs, have a favourable final three games, but it’s not even worth mentioning them unless they beat Fulham at Craven Cottage this Saturday.
I think Millwall will need to beat Villa on the final day to make the Championship play-offs, but also not lose away to Middlesbrough.
As long as Derby continue their recent improvement and beat Middlesbrough at home, they should get over the line.
With all the 50-50 games between potential play-off candidates to come, it a very hard call.
Sticking our necks on the line, MOMS will go for Derby and Millwall, joining Villa and Cardiff.
If it finishes as the below prediction table suggests:
Then, we’ll go for Villa to beat Derby and Millwall to beat Cardiff over two legs, to set up a Villa vs Millwall Wembley play-off final.