Yesterday’s 1-0 defeat at Bolton Wanderers saw Aston Villa’s chances of automatic promotion all but ended with the prospect of playoffs looming instead.
A second defeat in a week following the eye-catching 4-1 win over Wolves at Villa Park last weekend has turned the positivity and expectancy into a rude awakening.
It’s not mathematically impossible to gain automatic promotion, but at the same time it’s also not impossible to miss out on the playoffs altogether should the slide continue.
For once, an international break has come at a good time for Villa. The side have looked a shadow of their recent selves and for some it’s looked like a combination of age and a busy schedule have caught up with them.
In December, Villa saw their worst monthly points haul before going on an outstanding run to give themselves a real opportunity to gain an automatic spot. This is the kind of form and belief that Steve Bruce and his backroom staff now need to seek, build and maintain within the squad over the final 8 games of the league campaign.
Bruce has twice gained promotion through the playoffs and the importance of keeping the players both confident and fully fit is going to be a key as to whether his team are playing in the Premier League or a third season in the Championship looms.
Fulham comfortably beat Villa and Wolves within the space of a few weeks. Despite their own slip up yesterday, they look like a slick, attacking line up with bags of fitness. The likes of Ryan Sessegnon and Alexander Mitrovic will be the players they look to.
Middlesbrough have found form under Tony Pulis, winning the majority of their recent games to find themselves within the playoff spots. A revitalised Patrick Bamford and ex-Villa winger Adama Traore have been terrorising defences of late.
There is also of course Derby County and an accumulation of teams sitting just outside the playoffs to ensure the end of the league campaign will be full of twists and turns.
Should Villa end up in a playoff spot, surely 3rd or 4th will be of key importance too. Finishing in these positions would hand Villa a second leg at home. They have shown in big games against Bristol City and Wolves that with a raised atmosphere and everyone at their best, they can win the big games with a performance to boot.
Aston Villa need to secure a minimum of playoffs as soon as possible for me and the management of players like Terry, Jedinak, Snodgrass and Adomah will need to be at the forefront of Bruce’s plans should they achieve this.
One thing is for sure, the final 8 games are becoming some of the biggest in the recent history of club for so many reasons.