Aston Villa’s comprehensive 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough on Saturday saw Dean Smith’s side entering the playoff spots for the first time this season ahead of a pivotal run in.
The fixture itself brought an end to a busy few months as the football league goes into the international break.
Fans will be divided over the break being a good or a bad thing but right now, everything has to be seen as a positive.
12 points from the last 12 sees Villa sitting second in the current form table (based on the previous five games) only bettered by top of the table Norwich City who continue to defy the odds.
The return of Jack Grealish has undoubtedly inspired a rejuvenated side and the likes of Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause have been welcome additions with a notable injury list.
The international break will give the likes of Axel Tuanzebe, James Chester and others a chance to continue in their recovery phase as well as Grealish who has starred immediately after a two-month layoff.
Others simply need the rest. Tammy Abraham’s goal run has slowed but his efforts and coverage over the pitch to help others have been evident throughout the season.
John McGinn is another example of what a few weeks can do albeit following his suspension. The Scotsman scoring again on Saturday following his impressive double away to Nottingham Forest and changing the impetus against local rivals Birmingham City.
Dean Smith will see the run in as eight finals. Four wins in a row is massive right now and the challenge will be there to prolong the run.
However, the next game needs to be the focus once the points are gained.
A look to the fixtures of teams around Villa shows several sides playing against each other which will provide key weeks as to whether they can win and ensure that the playoff push becomes a realistic end result.
However, that’s the key message. Forget the others, the only team that will prevent Aston Villa from reaching their goals is Aston Villa.
Focused performances and consistency continue to be a key point game in, game out.
The run in itself should present as an opportunity to continue the recent good form after some emphatic wins.
Breakdown of the run in: 8 Finals
Blackburn Rovers (Home)
Last five games: LWLLD (Form Table – 14th)
Away record: P19 W4 D5 L10 For 26 Against 42 Points 17/57
Sheffield Wednesday (Away)
Last five games: WWDDW (Form Table – 6th)
Home record: P19 W8 D8 L3 For 27 Against 22 Points 32/57
Rotherham United (Away)
Last five games: LWLWD (Form Table – 11th)
Home record: P19 W6 D8 L5 For 27 Against 30 Points 26/57
Bristol City (Home)
Last five games: DLDLL (Form Table – 21st)
Away record: P17 W8 D4 L5 For 23 Against 19 Points 28/51
Bolton Wanderers (Away)
Current position: 23rd
Last five games: LLWLL (Form Table – 20th)
Home record: P19 W4 D4 L11 For 12 Against 28 Points 16/57
Current position: 20th
Last five games: WLLLL (Form Table – 18th)
Away record: P19 W3 D4 L12 For 19 Against 31 Points 13/57
Leeds United (Away)
Current position: 3rd
Last five games: LWWWW (Form Table – 5th)
Home record: Played 19 W12 D3 L4 For 32 Against 16 Points 39/57
Norwich City (Home)
Current position: 1st
Last five games: WWWWW (Form Table – 1st)
Away record: P19 W10 D7 L2 For 36 Against 19 Points 37/57
With the Championship being so unpredictable it is wrong to assume and expect outright wins but the recent results account for only half the story.
The level of performances have been ramped up, there is drive and ambition and perhaps most impressive of all has been the professionalism over the course of 90 minutes.
The team are finally making the right decisions, they are not forcing a pass and taking their time on the ball.
They are communicating and leading each other.
Mings, Mcginn and Whelan have been repeatedly seen to be pointing and shouting at others, whilst Abraham will tell people exactly where he wants the ball.
Jack Grealish has been dropping deeper almost in an unassuming role which has drawn out opposition defences and allowed the likes of McGinn and Hourihane to flourish.
Looking at the fixtures, similar performances would see us looking for wins against Blackburn Rovers, Rotherham United, Bristol City, Bolton Wanderers and Millwall respectively.
Edging on the side of caution, I think Sheffield Wednesday, boasting a strong home record and an unbeaten run under Steve Bruce (who may play pantomime villain) may be a difficult task. A point may well prove to be an invaluable one as the season plays out, especially with them just two points behind Villa.
Leeds United away is always a tough test. They have dipped in comparison to their rapid start to the season but still boast a strong home record and can raise their game under Marcelo Bielsa. A few key injuries to the likes of Kemar Roofe and Pontus Jansson could affect their run in but only time will tell.
The final game of the season could prove pivotal for both sides. Will Norwich already have sealed promotion and will they have wrapped up the title to boot?
What I would say is that Villa playing the way they have done of late will be a match and a test for anyone in the league.
Maximum points and three clean sheets out of four, one goal conceded (from a cross) and 11 goals scored show just how rich a vein of form the side are in.
Interestingly, Villa find themselves 16th in regards to clean sheets at home and 7th when it comes to clean sheets on the road. With a cluster of these coming in recent weeks, the back line could be huge and should the playoffs turn out to be the outcome, an away leg can be managed.
Enjoy the international break and buckle up for the ride ahead!
Get involved and tell us on the forum or on our Twitter page @Avillafan how many points you think Villa will obtain from the remaining 24 available.