Hands on hearts…Did you ever expect this team to set Aston Villa’s all-time record for consecutive league wins? Me neither. Yet here they’ve gone and done it.

So. Congratulations, you Villa boys! Something to be proud of. You’ve dug deep, kept believing, played hard for each other, the badge, and the manager, and simply refused to lose. And I don’t know that any of us thought you had it in you. Thank you for proving us wrong and doing yourselves proud.

Given all that preceded the run, it really is an epic feat that’s not only rescued the promotion dream, but given supporters something to truly savor. We’ve seen history made for the first time in a long time. Well, positive history, that is. We’ve seen Villa Park rocking, great crowds, and a real feel-good factor return.

And I know I didn’t think 10 on the spin was going to be as crucial as it turned out to be.

So, there’s that, and as Deano’s been saying, it all means nothing if we don’t get promoted. Sure, he’s managing expectations, but I like the fact he’s being level-headed and remaining focused at all times on the ultimate goal. This is obviously carrying over to the players, the training sessions, all of it.

But even if we fall short of the ultimate goal, I’m encouraged for Villa. I think we have the right man in place, finally. One who can handle a rebuild and duties for either the PL or another year in the second tier.

He’s gotten a bunch of veterans and younger players on board with a much more demanding culture.  He’s stuck to his guns, kept doing what brought him success elsewhere, and proven out his approach. The players are seeing the benefits or else they wouldn’t be buying in.

He’s also shown us what’s been missing at Villa for a long time: a culture of accountability and professionalism. I usually don’t like that managerial-jargon stuff, but that’s what it comes down to. And it takes someone to be in charge who can make good on a simple promise: Do what I ask, give it a chance, and we’ll all see the results.

Now that we’re in, we’ll see how Deano approaches things. It’s one thing to talk about winning another five. But that doesn’t necessarily tell us who he’s going to put out there. He’s got momentum and belief to maintain, expectations and psychology to manage. The players are buzzing, but now we’re being seen in the press as an unstoppable force. Moved from underdogs to favorites.

And that’s the challenge Villa face going forward. On our day, I think we can beat anyone. And were it not for us seemingly raising opposition keepers’ performances, we’d have had a few more emphatic wins. But we keep creating excellent chances and remain tight at the back despite an ever-rotating cast of CBs. We’ve ground out results, found late winners, overcome adversity, dealt with nervy finishes, and stayed on the front foot as much as possible. We can run and play for 90 minutes and never think time’s up. We’ve shown we can finally beat pressure, be composed, play quickly, and handle all sorts of different tactics and teams, home and away.

Can we keep doing it as favorites? That’s what we’ll find out. Is Smith secretly hoping for a loss or draw to bring everyone back down to earth and ease up this invincibility talk? Or does he believe we can keep going like a buzzsaw? Given his emphasis on attacking for the full 90, I’m inclined to believe he does think we can keep it up.

It may well be the case that the structure and focus he’s introduced, the demands he’s put in place, the routines and culture, will keep the players’ heads right. If they believe they’re as well prepared as anyone, as resilient and well drilled…That’s half the battle. And maybe the more important half.

There’s luck, of course. It can turn at any moment. But apart from maybe a couple of favorable calls agains the Robins, I don’t think we’ve ridden it. Players have come in and stepped up when injuries have inevitably hit. Kodjia’s goal in Tammy’s absence might well have been as important to the side as the win without Jack. Jedi’s stint deputizing for Tuanzebe/Mings/Hause has shown the preparation and mentality can carry throughout the side. It sounds like Tammy will be okay for the playoffs, at least, and Tuanzebe for Leeds.

We’re Villa, so cautious optimism is always warranted. We’ve secured a playoff spot when it looked like a dream, and now have, one hopes, just five (or really three) games standing between us and a return to the promised land.

I’m as excited and nervous as anyone. All I can say is that unlike last year, when I couldn’t see us winning through the playoffs, this year I can. Doesn’t mean we will, but we can. All we have to do is keep playing like underdogs.

Over to you.

Comments 56

  1. Thanks JC- Did not even think about records or that we had one to beat to any great extent but I did feel with Jack back and the defence stable we could make the play off’s even at the late stage we did. Mostly based on our previous performances but also on the nature of the league this season and the games to come. Ours against rivals and theirs against each other, they have been very obliging. For months we barely budged it seemed but neither did they.

    I didn’t expect the emergence of a true team outside of those players returning or arriving though and that speaks volumes for Smith and his staff. They have turned what appeared an unbalanced squad into anything but with minimal additions. Did Bruce have the Vision but not the coaching when putting it together? I don’t think so.

    I think Smith is teaching old dogs tricks and giving good players a better environment to be good in. It doesn’t hurt with Smith being open and amiable either and that he encourages the players to do likewise about where they are, that in itself keeps them grounded and looking to improve with a clear path. Its taken time but it is definitely here now.

    Hard to think they should be worried about it collapsing when it looks so Natural now, More of the same will do fine as we have won in every way possible so far, I suppose its easy as we go.

  2. Mark,

    Have to agree…I just don’t think we’d have seen this with Bruce. Think there’s definitely coaching aspect, from what’s happening on the training ground to all the other pieces we’ve talked about. The debriefs, strategy/tactics sessions, pre-game meals and further briefing.

    Also don’t think the intensity was ever there, pretty obvious given Smith’s initial comments. We couldn’t run 90 minutes under Bruce, full stop. To be fair, though, we haven’t been able to run for 90 minutes for a long time.

    I’d like to think the season overall stands them in good stead. They were going well before the injuries, bent but didn’t break following them and the disastrous situation at the back, and now regained what they’d found before.

    So, fingers crossed. Like you say, no reason for collapse other than bad luck or doubts creeping in.

  3. JC- By no means is this all Steve Bruce he is just a figure head of that age and mentality and did nothing wrong by his own standards. I remember when Delph got himself into the England team and a move by hiring a personal trainer, he looked head and shoulders above the rest, if that doesn’t tell of Villa’s standards and knowledge of whats actually required I don’t think anything will.

    As fondly as I remember the Mon Era in some ways I always thought it a massive lost chance in a time when the smarter clubs were transitioning.

    At the same time I am wondering Whether Belsa’s very fitness centric approach is catching up with Leeds? its a long season.

  4. Yeah, Bruce just a product of his time…But. He wasn’t looking around to see if there were any new tricks he could be picking up on. Complacent, basically.

  5. I’ve got a feeling that Bruce talked a good game and bigged up the players but provided no training or depth to their playing. Subsequently every set back or loss was a big blow to their confidence. His transfer history lends to that as the players he bought in had success in previous teams. No nurturing and they were soon cast adrift in their thoughts on their abilities. Scott hogan and McCormack come to mind. Richie DeLaet too. We all wondered about grealish. With all that skill and he wasn’t given anything to strengthen his mind or body.
    Smith has given every player a reason to play football with confidence and verve.

  6. My problem with Spud was his cautious set up. If we were playing Man City next, I’d see the thinking behind it. But it was like that for so many games. And as Ian says, he was a man manager rather than a coach.

    Those defending his work rightly point to the number of goals the team scored last season. But watching defenders passing the ball sideways to each other across the back line did my head in.

    Players wanting to play forward at every move is so much more rewarding. It gets the fans on side for a start. Whatever happens between now and the season’s end, the appointment of Deano was the right one. In my humble opinion of course.

  7. Back home now and chilled, after another couple of days back in Brum for the game and my usual hospital visit.

    Another amazing win chalked up against a very determined Millwall side, and yet there was never any feeling that we could lose it, which is quite a turn around from earlier in the season. The confidence that the team has built not only in themselves , but in the fans would have been unthinkable in the past.

    I take my hat off to Dean Smith, and his staff to what they have achieved, even more so when you consider that we are now all praising players like Taylor, Whelan, Elmohamady and even Jedinak, who at one time were all out of favour with the fans. I also want to say how much I admire Jed Steer, whilst many fans still do not give him the credit he deserves, and the difference that he has made to the defence since he took over between the sticks. I am pleased for him that he got into the EFL team of the week, and cant believe that we have fans saying that other keepers deserved it more, because he has had only two saves to make in the last two games. Do fans not see the work that he does in cutting out balls, receiving passes, moving the ball on…etc etc.

    The next game could make a big difference, back on Sky Sports, Sunday morning, and the chance to move up to fourth, where we finished last season. It would be a truly amazing result for Dean Smith and the whole team and staff at Villa Park. The chance that we can go to Wembley once more, and do what we have failed to do the last two finals that we have played there.

    Loved the semi final that we played at Wembley, which was Jack’s finest hour that season, but then the disaster against Arsenal, and the joke against Fulham. What could be finer than for Jack Grealish to crown this season, than to lead out his team and win the play off final. A dream for him and us all to at last come true!

  8. excellent leader JC, as usual.

    The crunch for me, is how Dean Smith has been able to take Bruce’s recruits, and mould them with his own, and some of the out of favour players into a formidable squad. Bruce was able to attract players to the club, but then failed to ever get the best out of them.

  9. That was a good read thanks JC. And some other good comments. We can see now that Bruce had brought together the basis for a good side but they needed excellent coaching to bring out the best in them . . . . and he fell short there. He’s still a good manager as evidenced by Wednesday’s climb up the table but it’s solid and competent rather than energetic and exciting. We’re seeing the latter under DS and it’s bringing results but also bringing fans back to the club
    Watching city and united now though shows that we’d need a few more players of Jack’s quality if we were to be promoted and wanted to compete in the premiership

  10. JC You mention a couple of favourable calls against Bristol City. The penalty was soft but Weimann was offside. Those decisions weren’t why we won the game.
    As for Lee Johnson saying that he’d had a letter apologising for the poor refereeing. . . , what a total load of b*****ks.
    Does anyone really believe that an official for the referees would write such a letter?

  11. Cheers, PP.

    Yeah, I don’t think Bruce is terrible, just isn’t a modern manager, and certainly not a coach. Deano’s done a fair job proving his approach.

  12. r0bb0,

    I was just trying to be as generous as possible regarding the calls when it comes to talking about ‘luck’. Another day, they could’ve gone differently.

    But no, they’re not why we won. We were just the better team, no question, and the scoreline was very kind to them.

    Watching Wednesday, though, that’s really not a Bruce team, least not the way they played against us. I don’t know enough about what’s gone on there to really have a quality opinion, but seems like he’s come in, cleared the air, and just not messed with what was in place.

  13. JC/Robbo- as we all know Bruce is known as a man manager, Dean Smith likes to be called head Coach.

    I think Dean Smith is equal in the Man manager dept, Dean Still gets called gaffer by the players and holds their respect and friendship particularly the youngsters. Players feel able to approach him and he’s honest for good or bad. If its bad then he gives them insight and guidance. I have said it before but its worth repeating, Dean Smith is a student of the game in every aspect, he studies how other sports promote a good atmosphere and mental attitude, plus recovery, fitness etc, a no stone left unturned attitude. The various club videos of chats with players are very revealing.

    I think that Steve Bruce tends to go for players in the limelight hence the spends money tag across his career? plus the odd recommendation like Johnson or Tuenzabe rather than finding a rough diamond and polishing it. I would be very interested in finding out who spotted McGinn although he had been making headlines in Scotland and I wonder if Clarke had mentioned him. Bruces claim for finding McGuire of Leic city makes me wary as apparently his coaching staff pointed him out firstly then when Hull Played against him Bruce signed him, Bruce then promptly left him in the reserves. Hull did seem to have a decent scouting network at that time though and I do remember Bruce waxing lyrical of liking Hogan etc years ago while here. That said McGinn almost makes it worth suffering Steve Bruces football 🙂

    The last of Villa’s old scouting network has left recently so what we see from now on is down to Jesus and Smiths direction, the two messiah’s 🙂

    I see we are linked with a £40 mil striker form Porto lol.

  14. JC- Wednesday improved the very next day after the manager was sacked winning 1-0 , they then only lost 1 from dec22 until Bruce turned up on Feb 1, some 7 games. Agnew and Clemence took over until he got back from the Cricket and then the unbeaten in 11 started before we beat them.

  15. Mark,

    Yeah, I knew he’d taken a while to actually ‘take over’, Bruce, but don’t know whether the turn in form included any substantial changes to style, tactics, selections, etc., or if it had more to do with simply sacking the manager. Agnew had given us a lift, as well.

  16. Thats my thoughts too JC. Dean Smith is sticking with his one game at a time and still looking to get above WBA in the league, no Tammy and likely to finish the season with 6 CB’s available which is ironic.

    He did mention how having to play 3 RB’s at times had hampered our push for 2nd and lost us games along the way, been a strange old season.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PRnJrmztUU

  17. Has been a strange old season, Mark.

    Feels like it’s been four of them stitched together: Bruce and Bruce out; Smith comes in; Jack and Axel out, no CBs; new CBs, Jack back, and winning streak down the stretch. Longest season I’ve ever watched! Been fascinating, though.

    Will be an interesting match Sunday with Leeds fighting to get back second, Dean seeming to still be going full speed ahead.

  18. Mark
    Irony is our forte.
    Good to see Gibson get his comeuppance, I hope we’re safe because any negative effects go across both ways between the EPL & EFL apparently.

    I was thinking about Billie McNeil, & am glad to see that we are wearing black armbands on Sunday

  19. JC
    It’s not exactly ‘Iceberg or bust’.
    But we certainly do need to have some headway to get anywhere helpful.
    Oy seems to be more like ‘business as usual’.

  20. If Sheffield win on Saturday I wonder how that will effect Leeds on Sunday ? I believe WBA can overtake them so they need a win but they also have Ipswich to come.

  21. WBA can overtake, but you’re right, Mark, if Sheffield win, then Leeds are stuck in the playoffs on GD.

    So that will be interesting. Guess I’d hope Rotherham give Albion a good fight, but at the this stage, I guess it probably doesn’t matter how it shakes out. Not sure who I’d rather face over two legs, and dunno if playing WBA in the final is better or worse than Leeds.

    All assuming of course that Derby, Boro or Bristol don’t pull an upset to change the most likely final opponent.

    I guess if Leeds are dropping form, though, and if we beat them Sunday, they might be the better semifinal opponent.

  22. IanG,

    Yeah, I wonder how much fourth means to Smith. If WBA win tomorrow, does it change his thinking?

    I’m all for disregarding the streak and just assuming Villa will win. If we do nothing worse than draw, though, in any of the remaining games, then we don’t worry about the streak, but still get where we want to be. Unless it’s penalties in the playoffs. Don’t think I can watch that.

  23. JC
    Yes well, it’s Leeds on Sunday.
    In the meantime it’s Bristol v Derby tomorrow afternoon, which could be interesting.
    The premiership is also on a cliffhanger, even as Liverpool won 5-0 tonight.
    Great stuff!

  24. No matter how you look at it the playoffs are a cr*p shoot. More often than not the predicted winner loses.
    We are in the middle of NHL playoffs right now and the top teams have lost the first round. They’re gone.

  25. Thanks for link MK. Good to see the Viking, Chester, and Hutton. Keenan looked a handful, I hope that lad makes it.

    Paul Pears, ur comments above are the best I’ve read on a blog. Thanks

  26. O’Hare scored after 20mins and off injured on 24mins. Looks like he has done best of loanees. Not sure what happened to Doyle-Hayes??

  27. The baggies won 2-1, so barring miracles where they lose the remaining games, it looks like they’ll be 4th

    Derby 2-0
    Boro 2-1
    Derby have a game in hand against Boro, so are in pole position for 6th

    Looking forward to tomorrow

  28. Paul W,

    I’m not going to comment on Norwich – maybe it’s down to their new manager and academy which must be the best in England. As for Sheff U, their manager is fantastic. In my view Wilder is easily an EPL manager. They look excellent today and even Hogan looks very good. I’m glad we won’t face them in the playoffs

  29. No surprise that top 3 are all well drilled and younger/fit squads with a clear plan and really good coaches in charge.

    Norwich like Huddersfield have raided the lower German leagues for players. Leeds have used a lot of their youth and wilder has all the cast offs.

    Villa have the quality and internationals but lacked clear direction and style, only a guess but maybe smith or any of those three cubs managers from the off = auto for us.

  30. MK – 100% agree with ur assessment. Having said that Norwich will be straight down. Sheff U have a chance. BTW, Enda Steven’s was very good again…why did we release him on a free? Then either us or Leeds should be ok with some investment.

    Villa don’t need a lot. I would say a great holding midfielder and striker. Just make sure Mings, Hause, and AEG sign. I see no chance of getting Alex or Tammy

  31. My point is that there is no Wolves this season and they will all crash straight back. Villa have a chance because of the wealth of the owners…FFP permitting

  32. Anyway, need to get through last 2 games with no further casualties. I doubt Derby will finish above us but better to finish 6th with a fit first choice 11 than 5th with 3 key players missing

  33. PW- I agree there is no prem ready teams, few teams have that each season, usually takes a longer build like Bournemouth, Watford or a rebuild like Newcastle’s but it has to be done smartly.

    To be honest I have no idea where we land, we have only just obtained a core and it’s not owned by us but I’ll take the money and take a punt on our owners ambitions.

    You can get promoted with a hard working young team that’s well drilled that’s becoming more of a norm. Wether they develop further is

  34. Team news:
    Steer, Elmohamady, Tuanzebe, Mings, Taylor, Hourihane, McGinne, Grealish, Green, El Ghazi, Kodjia

    Subs: Sarkic, Hutton, Jedinak, Whelan, Bjarnason, Lansbury, Adomah

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