Aston Villa fans are a fairly content bunch at the moment. Dean Smith’s arrival has seen us playing some of the best football that we have done in years. We are finally seeing what we knew this group of players were capable of.
There is an optimism that we are starting to push on now and can really become a part of the race for promotion. The next couple of weeks or so up until the new year sees a run of five fixtures, three of which are at home. These are covered in Dean Davis’ piece a couple of days ago. Undoubtedly, it’s an important time and could make or break our season depending on how we fare. But just how well placed are Villa going into the festive season?
At the time of writing, Villa finds themselves placed 8th in the table with 32 points. We’re four points off 6th placed Middlesborough and ten points of second-placed Leeds United. With Norwich City perched top of the tree one point further ahead.
The dream is of course to grab one of those top two places. If that were to happen, it would take an almighty effort to overhaul that kind of gap. Luckily, we’re not quite halfway through the season. There are plenty of games to chip into the current deficit.
As it stands, Villa has averaged 1.52 points per game over their 21 matches. The upturn in style since Smith has arrived has also delivered substance. Our points per game ratio improving in his 9 matches in charge so far to 1.88.
This is certainly a positive we can build on. And we will need to. It is generally accepted that a team chasing one of the top two places will end up averaging roughly 2 points per game. As Villa are already in a not insignificant deficit on that target, it really does leave a bit of a mountain to climb even at this relatively early stage.
75 points up for grabs
With 25 games left to play, there is a total of 75 points up for grabs. That means that Villa will need to amass 50 points from those games to average 2 points per game between now and the end of the season. Even that, however, will only leave us on 82 points, which will almost certainly not be enough for a top-two finish. By comparison, we finished last season in fourth place with 83 points.
In truth, Villa will need in all likelihood another ten points or so on top of that to gain automatic promotion; even second-placed finishers have averaged 90.8 points over the last five seasons. That means Villa are looking at needing 60 points from those 75 still to play for, which works out at a whopping 2.4 points per game until the end of the season.
Being able to drop just 15 points between now and the end of the season is a monumental ask. However, there may just be a couple of positives which we can hold onto.
No run-away team
First of all is the fact that no team is really running away with things in the Championship this season. There are no shoo-in’s such as Wolves or Newcastle were in the past couple of seasons. At various points, each team currently occupying the top six has been sat at the top of the league.
That just shows how close the race is this year, and indicates that there isn’t really any one team that is head and shoulders above anyone else. In the last couple of weeks, however, Norwich and Leeds have opened a slight gap. But in truth, the Canaries have had a lovely run of fixtures in recent weeks facing strugglers such as Bolton, Rotherham, Millwall and Brentford all at Carrow Road. And in truth, they’ve made hard work of winning each of those matches. It will be interesting to see how they cope with some sterner tests.
Leeds continue to tick along nicely but have also shown an inconsistency at times and had a stretch of winning just three games in ten during September and October. And each of Derby, Boro, Sheffield United and West Brom have shown their frailties with a certain degree of regularity so far. So perhaps the points total won’t be quite a large as it has been in recent seasons.
Bruce crippled us
As for ourselves, our own run of one win in ten matches under Steve Bruce looks set to cripple us. However, having schooled both Derby and Boro on their own patch and being robbed of three points against West Brom at the Hawthorns, we look to be emerging as the team that is capable of beating anyone in this league. Villa seems to be parting the waves and could end up dishing out some almighty whippings to some of the lesser teams when we face them.
Dean Smith knows that drawing game after game is a killer. After all, we know that if you play three matches and win two of them and lose one, that is still better than winning once and drawing two yet remaining unbeaten. And if there are real ambitions to march up this league, that mentality is very much going to be adopted.
It seems like a big ask to grab one of the top two positions having broken down the stats. To have any chance, we’ll need to strengthen the defence in January for one thing. And cut out the silly mistakes that have characterised some of the recent goals we’ve conceded. The Forest game is a particular lesson in both of those matters.
Villa are at base camp and about to take on Everest. But at least it’s going to be exciting trying to get to the top of it. And one thing is for sure, if we carry on playing as we have been recently, no one will want to face us if we at least make the playoffs.