So here we are …
32 games down, 2 proud cup runs complete and still every chance at that illusive fourth place. We’ve had tears at Wembley, jeers at Villa Park; rumours of MON’s resignation and silent suggestions of Milner to United. And haven’t we had plenty to cheer about? Early season triumphs over Pool, Chelski and Man U tied in with the 10 goal Blackburn thriller and further second city success has ensured smiling Villa faces at long last. And what sets this season apart, is consistency. Just 6 defeats and still the 3rd lowest goals conceded tally (despite the Chelsea drubbing) along with our cup constancy represents a firm goodbye to the erratic unpredictability of the past. Of course, we have slipped up in certain fixtures – but this is expected, this is why we are Aston Villa and not Manchester United. However, winning games where normally we wouldn’t, and doing so in such an assured manner is the most pleasing aspect of this season. Prevailing from tough grounds at Sunderland, Wigan, Fulham and Bolton and coming through home ties against Arsenal and the champions is solid testimony to our progression as a club and a firm explanation to how we have maintained our fight for Europe.
And with 6 games remaining, Champions League Football has never been so close. Spurs’ predicted demise has taken place even sooner than expected and the wheels have firmly fallen off Liverpool’s “fight back”. Yet, strangely, Villa are still available at 14/1 to finish 4th … Maybe the bookmakers haven’t noticed the dropped points elsewhere, maybe no one has analyzed any of the run ins each team faces, but I know at 14/1, I am certainly not going to turn a blind eye, like everyone else seems to have, to Villa’s season.
Yes, we sit seventh in the league, and yes, we’re 4 behind Spurs, 8 behind City. Daunting? Not on your nelly. Because as Spurs’ hopeful season spiralled downwards and out of control these past 2 weeks, their remaining league games against the league’s current top 4 certainly won’t help their eventual landing. But they can however do us a favour by nicking a result at City! Speaking of which, all is merry in the blue side of Manchester. Hitting form at the right time with 5 games remaining, 4th place is theirs to lose as it stands. But as I say, if Spurs prove to be a stumbling block for the Tevez inspired outfit, and United and Arsenal can make their better talent count, then City might not just fancy Aston Villa’s visit on the 1st May. The final Champions League spot is most definitely in their hands, but their final fixtures has laid hazardous speed bumps on their home stretch.
As far as Liverpool are concerned, I think if we have any aspirations of overtaking Man City then we should no longer worry about the threat the Merseysiders pose. With arguably the best team equipped for the challenge, they have thankfully ran out of opportunities to secure enough points and with 4 games left, it would take something of miraculous proportions to catapult them back where they belong. However if City do falter and Villa don’t capitalise, who’s to say that Liverpool’s kind fixtures (excluding Chelsea) wont see them home – but it is unlikely, even for Liverpool! I think they will finish 6th, ahead of the Londoners.
As for Villa: our one game in hand over our fiercest competitors takes place on Wednesday night against fine opposition, Everton. But judging from how we outplayed Chelsea (soon to be double champions) for 45 minutes at the weekend, I think the Villa Park roar can see us crawl back to within 5 points of Man City – who we get the chance to condemn at the City of Manchester. Our other 4 games (Portsmouth, Birmingham, Hull City, Blackburn) are on paper, extremely winnable. Therefore, there’s no real audacity in suggesting that 4th place is in fact, in Aston Villa’s hands.
Hypothetically, if we were to win all of our remaining games, City would only have to drop 2 extra points for us to catch them.
Realistically, we will be very pleased with a draw in Manchester when we play them. Therefore, if City dropped 6 points (not including the game against ourselves) in their run in, we would surpass them. (And we need them to drop 6 extra points because of their superior goal difference).
Is this asking a lot? With City’s inconsistencies, no. With City’s run in, no. (Is it impossible to see them drop 6 points against United, Arsenal and Spurs? No.) It would be asking a lot, however, to expect Villa to beat them and the rest of their opponents in the final stretch. But do we have the ability to do so? Yes. And if we were to do so, we would need City to drop just 3 points of their crucial 3 games (and this doesn’t even consider their other fixtures).
Am I a romantic? Yes.
Aston Villa have seen their cup campaigns disappear in disappointment. And after slipping up at home to Wolves and Sunderland recently, they have been written off. Why? I haven’t one clue.
From memory, I can recall Spurs being defeated against Hull and Wolves at the Lane. I can remember Man City’s abysmal 6 straight draws (including Burnley at home). It happens. But I can also differentiate this Villa season to others, with consistency. And it is this consistency that I think can push us through these remaining 6 games. It is this sudden expectancy to win that I think will help us win. And of course, it is our fortunate fixture list that I think looks on us favourably.
Once again, it is infinite hope on my part. But my hope is a spawn of chance and always carries a certain realism. I recognise that Man City are in complete control of the situation; however I am also confident that should we perform to our highest potential, it will take a big push from City to push themselves over the line. And if they can see out the remainder of the season, then they will deserve it and we will have been beaten by a great team. But if we are to win five and draw one (very possible) and accumulate 16 more points, I will honestly be very surprised if we don’t make it to the Promised Land.