What a difference a good month can make in the Championship. Near the end of February, Aston Villa had just between a 3% – 5% chance of making the play-offs. This great recent run of form has seen that number soar upward almost tenfold. Is this real life?
12 points from 12 so far this month see Aston Villa sit in 6th place (albeit with some teams around them having games in hand), and primed to make a realistic push for one of two still “up-for-grab” playoff spots. At this point, barring monumental collapses, West Brom and the unluckiest of the Leeds/Norwich/Sheffield United trio are going to occupy the 3/4 positions in the table. That leaves 5th and 6th place open to, well, really any of the next 9 teams in the table.
FiveThirtyEight currently slates Aston Villa as having a 48% chance at finishing in the top-6, while the latest model from Experimental361 (One of the best sites for EFL Championship statistical modeling that you will find) gives the Villans a 43% chance. How many of us, myself included, thought that this would not be possible following that ugly 2-0 loss at the hands (feet?) of West Bromwich Albion?
There is absolutely no coincidence that the team’s lightning fast push back up the table isn’t directly related to him being healthy and back in the lineup. There’s also no reason that this form can’t continue. On paper, March was the more difficult of the remaining months, with fixtures against Derby, Blues, Forest, and Boro. (Not to discredit Stoke or Blackburn, but neither of them are ahead or near Villa on the table). The Lions have chomped through all four of those teams, and short of a meeting with Steve Bruce’s Sheffield Wednesday and a clash with fellow play-off hopefuls Bristol City, Villa will be heavy favorites in the pre-Leeds/Norwich fixtures. (I’d imagine they will still be mild favorites in the Wednesday and Bristol matches as well.)
Thankfully the teams around Villa should suffer some attrition. With the exception of Derby, every team fighting for top-6 has to play at least one of either Norwich, Leeds, or Sheffield United in their last 8-10 matches. Teams like Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol, and Preston have very difficult schedules coming in.
For now the only truth I have is this – The only team that has the capacity to prevent Villa from reaching the top-6 is Aston Villa. Win the matches that are supposed to be won, and it will be a top-6 finish. UTV