Aston Villa’s historic winning streak has been rewarded with confirmation of a guaranteed playoff spot with two games to spare. Even making the top six at all seemed a tall order at the beginning of March. The incredible haul of 30 points in ten games has propelled Villa skywards and alleviated any sense of nerves going into the final couple of matches.
It’s easy to feel that its job is done now for the Villans. The remaining games against Leeds and Norwich look tough on paper. There is a feeling among some supporters that there is no need to risk injuries and suspensions at this point which could drastically affect us when it matters in the playoffs.
For me though, there is still another target in sight in the form of West Bromwich Albion.
Albion are likely to finish no higher than fourth, meaning that we are in pole position to face them as the team that finishes 5th in a two-legged tie. Derby, currently in sixth position would need to win all of their remaining games to usurp us into fifth place, meaning that a meeting with Albion is the very likely outcome.
On the face of it, finishing fourth or fifth makes little difference; those teams will play each other regardless.
Advantage of finished fourth
I think there is a very real advantage on this occasion in finishing fourth. That one extra position determines who gets home advantage in the second leg of the tie. With this being a derby match up, I think that could be a decisive factor.
For me, meeting Albion is the least appealing of any of the possible playoff fixtures. Whilst the Baggies aren’t in any sort of consistent form at the moment, you can bet your life that the fact this is a local derby would add an edge to the two ties. Having the second and decisive leg at a packed out Villa Park rather than having to go to a hostile Hawthorns could be key.
Getting a good result in any first leg is obviously crucial. These ties are big occasions. But things are always turned up a notch for the second leg where everything is really is do or die. It’s at this point where everyone knows exactly what needs to be done and this is where the atmosphere really builds. I’d much prefer Villa Park. Hosting that kind of match than having to play at a local rival whose supporters will be bang up for it.
Similarly, you don’t want any kind of deflation going into the playoffs. Yes, we’ve just won an unbelievable ten games in a row. But if we simply roll over for the last couple of matches in an attempt to conserve energy or avoid injuries and suspensions. Then we are also giving up all of the momentum and confidence that has been built up.
Air of invincibility
There is a real air of invincibility about Villa at the moment. That shouldn’t be underestimated and should be preserved for as long as possible. Take our foot off the pedal now and it could be very difficult to raise ourselves back up to this level for the playoffs.
The Baggies are in sight and whilst they may have beat Rotherham yesterday, they have a difficult looking final match of the season against a Derby. A side who will be surely looking to make sure they’re part of the playoffs.
Villa fixtures look much tougher, especially the trip to Leeds who absolutely need to win to have any chance of avoiding the playoffs. The game against Norwich could be much kinder than it looks on the first inspection though. The Canaries could be on the beach following their promotion this weekend. If Villa does manage to overcome them, there is always a psychological boost of knowing we’d just beaten the (probable, at this point) Champions.
Villa has done extremely well in getting to the playoffs in style. But for me, there is still plenty to play for before the season finishes.