Three months ago, writing previews became more of a chore than a pleasure. I will admit I had given up on our season and was looking forward to my annual trip to Germany to watch Borrusia Dortmund. Fast forward three months, a 12-month unbeaten run and here we are. A playoff semi-final against our local rivals West Brom.
It is hard to separate both of these sides on paper and on the field. In fact, you could say that about any of the sides in the Championship playoff picture.
Villa will host the Baggies tomorrow before the return leg at the Hawthorns on Tuesday. Dean Smith will be hoping his side can build on the impressive run that got them in this position in the first place.
The playoffs have always been great to watch on the TV when your side is not. When your side is involved it is a different situation altogether. Villa’s playoff failure last season hurt me more than anything else I have experienced as a Villa. And that includes getting destroyed by Arsenal in the FA Cup Final and relegation!
West Bromwich Albion finished the Championship in fourth position, four points ahead of Villa in fifth. Just like Villa, Albion’s biggest problem this season has been conceding goals. Only WBA and Swansea (62) conceded more goals than Villa (61) in the top 10 of the Championship this season.
What has saved them has been their goals scored. Only the Championship champions, Norwich (93) scored more than WBA (87) this season. Villa were the third highest scorers with 82.
WBA will look to play in their own half and hit Villa on the counter-attack. They have a never say die attitude and are also capable of seeing out a lead.
Aston Villa are in good shape. Smith will have a full team to pick from. Only goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland will miss out.
WBA will be without striker Hal Robson-Kanu starts a three-match suspension. The Welsh forward was sent off against Derby last weekend.
Chris Brunt is likely to return after the missing the game against Derby. Jake Livermore is doubtful with a foot injury.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Predicted XI: Steer; Elmohammady, Mings, Tuanzebe, Taylor; Whelan, McGinn, Grealish; Green, El Ghazi, Abraham.
Kick Off: 12.30
TV: Sky Sports Football
Venue: Villa Park, Birmingham
Tickets: Sold out
Odds: Aston Villa 17/20 WBA 16/5 Draw 13/5 (Skybet)