Aston Villa finished the regular Championship season with a 1-0 defeat to Millwall at the Den that secures The Lions with their highest league finish in sixteen years.
Steve Bruce has had a torrid week with the awful news that his Mom had passed away just months after losing his Dad. Despite this, the former Hull boss was in attendance doing his job as his mom would have wanted.
Bruce made eight changes to the first team the regular started a break in time for the playoffs while giving the fringe players an opportunity to stake a claim in the team for the playoffs.
Millwall could have taken the lead on the 15th minute when Aiden O’Brien’s attempted cross was heading towards the goal, forcing stand-in goalkeeper Mark Bunn to tip the ball over the bar.
The home side was ahead on the half hour mark however when they were awarded a penalty after Henri Lansbury’s clumsy foul on Jed Wallace.
Shaun Williams stepped up and sent Brunn the wrong way to give Millwall a well-deserved lead.
Villa’s best chances of their first half came through Tottenham loanee Josh Onomah. Albert Adomah made space for the midfielder but he could only hit his shot tamely straight at Millwall keeper Jordan Archer.
Onomah had another chance just before half-time but his long-range effort was once again all too easy for Archer.
Villa’s fringe players struggled to make any real impact and hardly made a statement to the Villa manager.
Millwall should have doubled their lead early in the second half when Williams narrowly headed over from a Ben Marshall corner.
The Lions leading scorer Steve Morison then played Fred Onyedinma through on goal but he failed to hit the target.
Most of Villa’s opportunities came from a distance. Firstly Onomah’s hit a spectacular curling effort but it narrowly sailed over the bar and then Conor Hourihane watched on as his 20-yard effort flew past the post.
The best chance from Villa come on the hour mark when James Bree’s curling effort from the edge of the box forced a save out of Archer in the Millwall goal.
Bruce introduced Jack Grealish, Robert Snodgrass and former Millwall striker Lewis Grabban into the game with 16 minutes to play to try and give Villa some attacking threat.
A few minutes later Hourihanes volley rebounded off Archer and fell to Grealish but Shaun Hutchinson made a crucial block to deny Villa.
Millwall was awarded a second penalty late on. Following a lengthy consideration between the linesman and referee, Bree was judged to have handled the ball in the box.
Lee Gregory stepped up but was denied by Bunn and then the keeper somehow denied James Meredith’s rebound when it looked easier to score.
Villa finishes the regular campaign with a defeat but all eyes would have been on the playoff semi-final against Middlesbrough. The aim at the start of the season was automatic promotion and we have failed but we have been thrown a lifeline by making the playoffs.
It is make or break time for Bruce and his Villa side so let’s not fail again.
Aston Villa assistant Colin Calderwood: “We need to play at a different level in our next game. We have to be more towards our A game than we were today – and we will be. The magnitude of the clubs involved in the playoffs this season make them all exciting games – and hard to call. We can’t think that a play-off semi-final is the limit of our success.”
Neil Harris: “Our aim come August 1 is to get 50 points next season. There has to be a sense of realism in terms of what we’ve achieved this year. We’ve improved in every transfer window that I’ve been here for and that’s our challenge again this summer. I’m not going to go out and spend £15million on a striker but we need improvements.”