After three games in a week, a two-week layoff felt like an eternity. To me, anyway. But now that’s all done and we’re back for the run-in. Eight matches left for us, and the first is Blackburn at Villa Park. Then another silly week follows, starting with a trip to Hillsborough for a little reunion with Steve Bruce. That’ll be a juicy one.

But first things first. Rovers haven’t been on a good run of form and you’d have to say their season is pretty much done. Sitting 16th on 47 points, they don’t look to be in danger of claiming the third relegation spot, and neither do they look like rocketing up into the promotion conversation. So, either they’re dangerous as they’ve got nothing to lose, or they’re there to be had because they’ve got nothing to play for.

Villa, on the other hand, have everything to play for and spirits are running high. Tammy Abraham has been declared fully fit, and Axel Tuanzebe and Henri Lansbury are both back and apparently ready to play. Jack Grealish has had a couple weeks’ to get his legs back under him, which he needed after the quick succession of fixtures following his layoff. Everyone else? Well, it’s basically a fully fit squad, and Conor Hourihane will be feeling very good about his Ireland exploits.

So, while I’d normally have lamented the break, I think it probably came at as a good a time as any. Villa really do need Abraham up front, even when he’s not scoring, because he does a lot of work off the ball, helps the press immensely, and always attracts attention. And Villa need Grealish to be at his freshest.

Having Tuanzebe available opens a lot of things up. Obviously he’s been out a good long while, and hasn’t played with Tyrone Mings or Kortney Hause. Meanwhile, Mings and Hause have done well together in the center following Tommy Elphick’s injury. Does Axel come straight back in? I think most everyone is expecting him to. Whether he does or not will obviously depend on his sharpness in training, Dean Smith’s caution about changing a winning side, and the desire to have your best players on the pitch. On paper, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like seeing Tuanzebe and Mings in the middle with Hause back out left, and I’m guessing that includes Deano.

Otherwise, I think we’re at the place where the team picks itself. The only real variable centers on Hourihane, Whelan, and possibly Bjarnason and Lansbury in the third midfield spot. Villa have been just fine lately with either Hourihane or Whelan in, so I don’t think there’s any real dilemma. Just a question of freshness, rotation, and horses for courses. Hourihane has goals and assists in him, Whelan the cool, experienced head.

So, Villa are as healthy as they’ve been all season, Smith has good options, and it’s just a question of whether the side can keep the momentum they had going into the break. Sounds like training has been going well and the players are full of enthusiasm. As Smith says, it’s now just a matter of tactics, recovery, and maintenance. And winning.

With a couple teams behind us having games in hand, Villa can’t take 6th for granted by any means. And you’d have to say the next six are all very winnable on paper if you’re a team that probably would be sitting much nearer the top of the table if it weren’t for injuries. When Villa are flying, I think we’re back to Smith’s assertion that we’re not scared of anyone.

Anyway, it’s going to be rather interesting from here on out, and a win today would go a long way toward cementing the team’s belief, making a statement, and laying claim to a playoff birth. It’s all in our hands, now.

Over to you.

Comments 119

  1. JC, it’s a pity as I feel Carroll could be a very good player for us. Interesting to hear how Mings and Steer are constantly organizing the team during games. Jed Steer is a huge reason for our run, at least in my view

  2. Steer certainly hasn’t done anything wrong, and the two are much more vocal than we’re used to seeing.

    Carroll seems to have been an insurance policy. But you’re right, he did look tidy when he got a few minutes. I’ll be curious to see what happens with him, it’s almost like he doesn’t exist right now, and definitely not his fault.

  3. Yes JC, DS did good by showing loyalty. U can’t just walk into the starting 11 anymore unless ur name is Jack. Really looking forward to this one

  4. Subs: Sarkic, Jedinak, Tuanzebe, Hourihane, Adomah, Kodjia, Davis.

    Well, good to see Tuanzebe back in contention on the bench.
    So we’ve got cover for CH & RB with him, with the LB covered also with Hause if necessary, that’s a nice change, very solid.
    Jedinak is cover for defensive midfield, & Hourehane for CM & so on.
    Every position is now covered on the bench by people in their natural positions, so progress at least, less hesitation & square peg in round hole symptom.
    I wonder if Carroll will get another game.
    Oh well KO in 15 minutes, so time to tune my trusty tranny in to the match.

  5. For some reason I thought Hause was left footed, but he’s playing on the right side. Hause looks better than Mings and I believe we have an option to buy

  6. There were a lot of chances, VillaMD, and you’d have liked to think one or two more would’ve gone in. A strange game, but Rovers came out well in the second, and just goes to show you have to make that early advantage count.

    But, nice to see the defense stand firm, in the end.

  7. Never in full flow and one that we would have dropped points due to panic in the past, we ended up grinding it out. Green was great in the first and the opposite later. Steer didn’t have much to do and doesn’t do much under pressure. We should have been out of sight and ended up being a nervy end.

  8. I thought Hause and Elmo were immense. Hause looks like he will be a Villa legend. Would love if we could sign both him and Mings. Whelan also great. I thought Jack really tired in 2nd half. Would have been good to give Alex 10 mins as a defensive midfielder

  9. I’m looking forward to seeing the long hi lites.
    And now on to Saturday, when the ‘he who shall not be named’s’ bs will be all over the BMail.
    Oh well, deeds rather than words eh?

  10. VP was rocking. 40,000 inside. The fans can feel the excitement. Great result. Five on the spin. We battered them first half. How was it only 1-0 at half time? All followed by a nervous finish.

    With PNE and Boro’ losing, we made some gains. But it’s still not in our hands so we must keep going. Bring on Spud’s outfit. We need 3 more points.

  11. Plug- If we Beat Bruce’s lot That will knock the wind out of their progress and same with Bristol, hope we are secure before the last two games but I think they are both beatable and our lot would be massively up for it.

  12. Jack did look tired, yes. I’m glad it’s another full week before we get into it again.

    And it’s good we’re getting a shot at Bristol and SWed while we’re on a run. Like you say, Mark, should see them off as far as we’re concerned.

  13. Jack defended well I heard and it sounded like McGinn took on more of the attacking threat, no bad thing. Bit worried about our ability to cope with the high press, second half they caused us problems and we didn’t keep the ball well. Our improved defence coped with it mostly but Steer a little shaky at times, I think going back a few games we would of crumbled. Think its a shame Carroll has not been able to get a go at that DM slot as he can keep the ball and move it quickly.

  14. Another great day out at Villa Park yesterday, collecting another three points, after starting the day with a full English breakfast, enjoying a few pints of Mad Goose in the Aston Tavern, and joining nearly 40,000 fans to create a great atmosphere for the afternoon football match.

    Villa made a great start and impressed for most of the first half, and with a little more clinical finishing should have been out of sight. We still seem to struggle to find that finish, stats say that we had plenty of shots on target, but they were not ever going to beat a decent keeper.

    Our build up play gets better and better, while Mings and Hause are immense in defence, with Whelan under a new lease of life is outstanding, and part of an outstanding midfield, and I must mention how much Elmohamady brings to the table since his return. Taylor is doing the same, and really Green is the only weak link at the moment, as El Ghazi is doing so much defensively now and his game improves match by match.

    The substitutions were sensible, as Green had run his course and Jack was looking very tired. All in all a competently won game, which gave the fans more confidence, but we do need to be more clinical and push home our advantage and kill games off.

    Looking forward to this final run in with a fully fit squad, and no longer fear any of our up and coming games, unless Andi Weimann decides to score another hat trick!!!

  15. MK, thanks for run in link. PP, definitely a feel good factor. You can tell the players are enjoying their football. For me Tammy missed way too many chances. Maybe he’s extra quality to get into those positions, but he has to score more. He seems to get flustered, for example the tap in he blasted over towards the end…it didn’t require him to put his laces through the ball.

    It looks like our 24 year old RB from Caen, Gilbert, is playing regular at the moment.

    I don’t blame Jed for the goal as the ball swerved so much

  16. superb new that vp was rocking and fully up for it. usually dead and moans and groans. no better place when all in it together. Crowd stay like that we will win all our home games

  17. he works his socks off though the difference the other day when he went off for kodjer was remarkable. kodger hardly ran!

    Tammys hold up play needs to be a lot better too. has the attributes to hold it up well but rarely happens. Think all his goals have come from the box too!

  18. Tammy…

    If we do go up and manage to hang onto him, he will have to improve his conversion percentage, as I seriously doubt we’ll be creating the same number of quality chances.

    Work rate? Excellent.

    Hold-up play? He’s lanky, and often not great with the ball at his feet in those situations. Tends to get away from him a little too easily. Between the close control and the conversion rate, you can see why Chelsea aren’t looking to him for answers. Vital for us right now when you see what we’re like with Kodjia in his place, as Heroes says, don’t know that he’s enough at the next level.

  19. While I don’t disagree that Tammy isn’t the finished article and may never be I don’t think we need or will get a top striker if we go up. You only have to look at the players in the scoring charts to see there are not many outside the top clubs that have scored 10 goals even, only Murray and king on 11 each and Barnes and Rondon with 9 each. In fact there are an awful lot of goals coming from mid-fielders.

  20. JG
    Was just watching a thing on dinosaurs.
    Some of them even had feathers.
    The next couple of fixtures should be interesting

  21. IanG- After Bristol won last night looks like Boro have dropped out although only 3 points behind us and that Game at home to bristol looks a biggy. That said they have derby and other top 8 teams, in fact there are quite a few of those 6 pointer situations still to go throughout the top 8. I don’t think we have much room for wiggle. Would hate to miss out now, would be worse than last years final.

  22. Mark
    I also would hate to miss out now, it would be worse than being tickled to death.
    Every game is a biggie now, especially the Bristol City one & the last 2 games.

  23. Never mind Bristol City boys, we have a much bigger game to get through first against Sheffield Wednesday, and Bruce has not lost a game yet, and we need all three points, as well as another three points against Rotherham United next week, before we even look at Bristol City.

    As Dean Smith says, we need to take things one game at a time. Let us make sure we get the result on Saturday first. Sheffield is a very hard place to go and win, although if we could achieve that same result Ron Saunders did back in the 70’s when we won 4-1 at Hillsboro’ and he was worshipped as the Messiah, I would be more than happy!

    The most important thing now is that we have a fully fit squad for the run in.

  24. Having won all 5 games in March, DS will collect the Championship Manager of the Month award. I’m a bit uncomfortable with that, as it often acts like a lead weight immediately afterwards.

    And we are walking into a smarting Spud who will be looking for revenge. He’s still upset about that cabbage. On the positive side, his team has a few injuries whereas Villa are at full strength. Hopefully by Sat evening he will still be smarting.

  25. The Spud match-up is very interesting.

    You know he wants a big “I told you so,” but that doesn’t necessarily carry through to his players. Might, but not a given.

    Smith will obviously want his own vindication.

    What I think will be the deciding factor is how the Villa players look at it. If they’re happier and feeling like they’re reaching potential under Smith that they wouldn’t have under Bruce, then they’ll be out to prove something, as well.

  26. Think we should send him this video of the team training he’ll think we have bought a new squad. As he was making plans for forestieri when he was injured last september he might be working out how to stop Snodgrass and use pace to get at JT. Speaking of which he’s actually shown training the defence in this and some good stuff of young Wheelan.

  27. MK – Thanks for the link. Enlightening. My mind is racing wondering what Spud did with those yellow obstacles that are meant to be an opponent.

    Lined them all up outside our box and told the players to note their positions during play?

    The obstacles might have beaten the Villa team that got relegated? We’ve come so far. Things are looking much brighter now. Sell out gates home and away culminating in a Wembley triumph?

  28. Carroll’s no longer with us, & gone back to Swansea to have an operation as he had broken down again
    On leaving he said “Go & get promoted”
    Pity as he was always a good player.

  29. IanG- yes I would like to have seen him play , always feel sorry for injured players as my knee lasted to 47 so I had a good run, can’t imagine the frustration at his age. I do think it says a lot about modern methods and nutrition as the players are more like athletes, athletes however peak for a couple of times a year not 46 and nobodies generally kicking them. On the plus side at least we don’t really need him.

  30. PP/JC/Plug- I have watched a fair few Villa practice sessions over the years and I can say they haven’t looked like that. Wheelan being touted as the new Pirlo 🙂

  31. Boggles the mind, Mark. I don’t know what else you’d be doing. I mean, I can understand 20-30 years ago that not being the case. But drilling those patterns so you don’t have to think as much, moving it quickly, rotating around, constant reminders “fill the space, fill the space”…all seems completely necessary.

  32. Mark
    My knee lasted until I was 30, with the rest following along a little too rapidly.
    On the plus side we’re still here.
    As for modern methods, it’s a result of more & more specialisation, which changes the stress levels of the body, always trying for the ‘optimal’ is now the official religion of half the world, especially the States.
    You have to remember that at our age the ‘optimal is staying alive & in as good a condition as possible despite the state we start in, & still pretend to function or you get fined with agist intent, to hurry you on your way.
    So how we are supposed to remember something that didn’t exist in our time, when it now has little relevence to other than for a tiny few plus the media.
    All that I can remember, as I smoked like a chimney & drank like a fish, & turned out for competitive matches, swimming competitions & athletics, from the age of 14, & before that when I was too young to know any better, same as now.
    It didn’t stop me training or seemingly being fit [actually we were just young].
    So it seems a modern problem for a modern world, yawn.

  33. Ahead of tomorrow’s match, Spud says that only Millwall and Burton spent less than AVFC in 2018 yet he got them within 1 game of promotion.

    He should be in politics with comments like that. Come on Villa, go for their jugular.

  34. IanG – Miss those days when you didn’t have to worry about tomorrow, still pretty fit just can’t run which makes no sense.

    Plug- like any of his comments it makes little sense mate, especially as our huge wage bill went up.

  35. looking a nice day for it here…. Hope it is the same up in Sheffield.

    We will need a performance like Liverpool’s last night if we are to come away with all three points. Fair play it was a game and a half, which in the end, they deserved to win. Milner and Henderson , as subs, making the difference!

    Wonder if Dean will keep the same side for the first forty-five minutes, and see how they perform, but mindful of Tuesday too. I am sure those in the squad that have not played, will be raring to go.

  36. Same team and subs:

    Steer, Elmohamady Hause Mings Taylor Whelan McGinn Grealish El Ghazi Green Abraham,

    Subs: Sarkic, Tuanzebe, Jedinak, Kodjia, Adomah, Lansbury, Hourihane.

    Just hope the mindless few do not spoil things for everyone by attempting to throw cabbages. Hope they get ejected before they have chance to use them. Nice to see on most of the blogs that the fans want to treat Bruce with respect…!!

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