Aston Villa appears to have left themselves a mountain to climb in the race to secure automatic promotion after a poor 1-0 defeat to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday. While it is easy to focus on the negatives, there are still plenty of positives and reasons to remain cheerful.
Due to Cardiff City’s match with Derby County being postponed due to the inclement weather on Sunday, the gap to second place still remains at seven points even despite our own loss. Obviously, we have now played one game more and have just eight matches remaining, putting us at a disadvantage. However, psychologically, the fact that we haven’t fallen ten points behind could be crucial. Stewing over a ten point gap over this two-week international break could’ve been devastating and for now, at least we can still feel that we are part of the run-in.
Another reason to remain cheerful is that following that game being postponed is that Cardiff will now likely have to play a whopping seven matches in April. It was already scheduled to be a busy month but that averages out at a game every 4.2 days. It’s widely acknowledged that the Bluebirds aren’t blessed with a squad full of depth and have largely relied on the same core of 14 or 15 players throughout the season. As we have found out ourselves last week, fatigue can strike at any moment. Fitting that extra game into an already packed schedule could have a huge effect on their results.
Talking of fatigue, whilst it’s a bit of a nuisance having two weeks off from a supporters point of view, the international break may actually be a good thing for the players right now. Whilst the old adage is that the Championship provides games thick and fast to get back into after suffering a loss, it didn’t seem to do us much good at Bolton. Yes, the weather provided tough conditions and made it difficult to play football. But to me, we still looked off the pace. If we had played another game this week, I’m not sure it would’ve been a good thing.
I do think it is possible to start lurching into loss after a loss once a bit of confidence has gone. These two weeks give us an opportunity to regroup properly and refocus. Confidence can be re-built and those in and around the squad will be cheerful themselves. It also allows those that may be suffering from weariness the chance to recover.
Conor Hourihane hasn’t quite been himself lately and I’m sure will benefit. Some of the older heads such as John Terry and Mile Jedinak will also surely profit from not having to play three games in a week right at this moment. This break may well be a huge factor in making a real push when we come back on the 31st March.
Another reason to be cheerful is that we know we can recover from situations like this. Back in December, we endured a winless run of five games. Personally, I was sure that we’d blown it there and then. The football was flat and we looked way short of the standards we needed to be at. A seven-match winning run then immediately followed that no one was expecting. There were some testing games in that run also, including an away trips to Middlesbrough and Sheffield United and a tricky looking home tie against Bristol City which was ultimately our most comfortable result of the season.
We know we’re going to have to probably win six, or more likely, seven of our remaining games and that seems like a huge ask but at least we know that we are capable of putting that sort of form together.
We have been playing some scintillating football at times since the turn of the year. Goals have been flowing in and we’ve looked unstoppable in some games. That sort of class doesn’t just disappear. We’re in a dip in form. And at least there seem to be factors and explanations, although they may seem weak.
As we have discussed, fatigue has been cited already. Which is somewhat understandable. It might not be what we want to hear, but the monumental effort against Wolves especially it is understandable. Bruce admitted he should’ve made changes to the team for the game.
And then against Bolton, the weather was horrendous enough to make decent football impossible. The fact that we were beaten by such a poor quality goal is a testament to that. Although our defending was admittedly shambolic. The point is though that I’m not concerned that this slump in form will continue. The mitigating circumstances may be or may not merely be weak excuses but I’m happy to at least include them as contributory factors in our losses.
Finally, I’ve banged on about it for the last few weeks, but Cardiff’s remaining fixtures aren’t exactly kind. They have to come to Villa Park, which is obviously a must win and a chance to cut whatever gap there may be by three points. They also have to travel away to Wolves and Sheffield United and of course, Derby. They will falter to some extent at some point.
Our own fixtures are no picnic, and of course, we’ve shown that we don’t need to be facing the toughest opposition to fall flat on our faces. But we at least know that we are capable of beating anyone in this division when the intensity is there.
And if we do fail in sealing automatic promotion, we will almost certainly have done enough to end up in the playoffs. Which obviously isn’t ideal, but at one point this season we had serious concerns about even making the top six.
There appears to be a total fear and panic of the playoffs. Personally, I think we should feel very confident heading into them. Fulham appears to be the team causing the most worry. And they, of course, shouldn’t be discounted in the race for automatic promotion at this point also.
But it is worth remembering that we beat them on their visit to Villa Park. At Craven Cottage we were dealt injury blows to in form duo Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah. As well as this, their second goal in a 2-0 defeat was gifted to them from a poor Sam Johnstone clearance.
They have certainly been impressive of late and obviously aren’t to be taken lightly especially with the astute acquisition of Aleksandar Mitrovic in January. I just feel that we shouldn’t be putting them on such a pedestal, especially at our own expense.
On our day, we have shown we can blow anyone away at this level with the players we have. It’s looking a bit bleak at the moment, granted. But there is still enough to play for to not give up hope completely just yet.
And if it comes to the playoffs, no one is going to want to be up against Villa. Keep the faith and stay cheerful.