Aston Villa Need to Have Second Place as Their Primary Aim in Season Run-In

If Aston Villa are to avoid spending another season in the Championship, a focus on Cardiff City’s second-place berth needs to be keenly in their sights. The variables and permutations of finishing in a playoff position are many. Whilst it still holds the possibility of promotion, it holds too much risk. The second place should be the focus for Steve Bruce and his side now.

There is a litany of examples for Villa to learn from. The 2015/16 season saw Brighton finish in strong form in the Championship. In fact, it was only a goal difference of two that saw Middlesbrough pip them to second place, both sides having finished on 89 points.

Brighton finished six points clear of the chasing pack, with Hull, Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday adrift of Chris Hughton’s side. Ultimately though, their rich vein of form would count for nothing. Hughton did, of course, find vindication when his well-organised side won promotion last year. But in their 2016 season finish lies a lesson Villa can learn from; finishing between third and sixth is riddled with insecurity.

Villa’s poor start to the season was met with frustration and question marks over whether Bruce was the right man to lead Villa to a Premier League return. It was the sides form in late November and December though, that illustrated the sides ability to complete in the upper echelons of the league.

Consistency, if not an extravagance, was at the epicentre at the sides impressive trajectory up the table. With that came confidence and an unthought-of depth that existed in Bruce’s squad. Birkir Bjarnason, up to then, was seen as a utility player. Solid if unspectacular support from the bench, he illustrated his ability to fill in for and arguably better the performances of the like of Glenn Whelan and Mile Jedinak.

Coupled with this was the return from injury of John Terry and Jack Grealish. Terry’s experience and reading of the game haven’t dwindled with age, and as a player whose game was never reliant on pace, he is a fine fit for Bruce’s defence. Whether he agrees to continue for another season will be dependant on varying factors. But there is no question he still has plenty to offer.

In Grealish, there is no surprise his return coincided with the side’s improved form. His incisiveness, creativity and sharp footballing game illustrate Villa will need promotion to have a chance of retaining his services next season.

In Robert Snodgrass, Bruce has shown his capacity to get players to play to their full potential. This can be illustrated by David Moyes looking to have the winger return to West Ham from his loan deal in January, only for Bruce to block the move. But it is his fusion of direct running, dexterity on the ball, and acute accuracy that has made him one of Villa’s stand out players this season.

Villa have both Cardiff and Wolves to face in the league run-in. Victories over their closest rivals will only be relevant and worthy if they continue their high-level performances against the sides beneath them. While Wolves are not runaway leaders yet, it is not an unfair summation to see Villa and Cardiff as the closest rivals for the second spot.

Villa have come a long way to reach this point, but they shouldn’t stop now. Because third to sixth place finishes guarantee nothing. In fact, as past experience shows, it can sometimes just set you up for a fall. 

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