Aston Villa: Can they now plan for next season in the Premier League?
What a difference a week makes. The results over the last few days could not have gone much better for Villa, especially when looking at the bigger picture.
Of course the two biggest results were their 6-1 demolition of Sunderland, followed by a narrow 2-1 victory at Carrow Road on Saturday. Those six points were obviously huge and football fans across the country should have nothing but respect for how Paul Lambert's men managed pull off such massive performances.
There have been plenty who have bemoaned the Scot and his tactics this season – myself included – and the criticism has been more than justified following the train wreck that was Villa’s run over Christmas, before they were promptly dumped out of the League Cup by Bradford City.
But that is all in the past now and suddenly Lambert’s vision looks like it is finally starting to click – and it couldn’t have happened at better time.
Every team down the bottom has pulled off at least one surprise result, so much so it’s got to the stage where it’s near impossible to predict who will go down.
I thought 39 points would be the benchmark, considering how poorly the lower league sides were playing and getting hammered by the big boys. Suddenly, however, everyone has found the same fighting spirit only Wigan have been able to muster in recent years, and it’s made for one of the most entertaining finishes to a season in a long time.
The fact Villa are still not safe on 40 points – despite Wigan having thrown away the lead against Swansea – shows how much Premiership survival means these days. It also shows how many decent sides have struggled this season. Who would have thought Stoke, Newcastle, Sunderland and Villa would have been praying for results to go their way with just two games remaining?
Villa’s performances have been nothing short of heroic. Not only have they pulled clear of the drop zone for the first time in about two months, they have also managed to swing their goal difference back in their favour.
If anyone had turned round to a Villa fan 10 days ago and said their team would have a better goals average than Norwich, Newcastle and Wigan going into the penultimate game, they would have seen to it they were committed.
But the goals pendulum has swung in their favour, thanks in no small part to Villa’s strike force, which has looked more and more exciting every game.
Christian Benteke has been the signing of the season, bargain-wise; Gabby Agbonlahor has finally started showing what he’s capable of; and Andi Weimann has been my player of the season.
Villa still have to play Chelsea on Saturday, followed by Wigan on the final day. It’s not unrealistic to see Villa stealing a point from the Londoners with how they’ve been playing recently, which really would mean they were safe.
But unless all results go their way over the weekend, nothing is certain, because no Villa fan wants to go to the DW Stadium knowing a win for the home side could send them down.
Forty points is probably enough, especially as Wigan also have to travel to Arsenal and get a result to have any real chance of avoiding relegation. Newcastle also face Arsenal, but desperately need to get three points from their next fixture against QPR. Norwich will be hoping West Brom roll over against them, like they seemed to have done against most lower league sides in recent weeks, because Man City away on final game will be near impossible, although with City having already qualified for the Champions League that could play in their favour.
Sunderland’s vital point against Stoke could save them this season, and they could really put the pressure on Southampton if they beat them, before travelling to Spurs. The Saints’ final game against Stoke could still be huge, more so for Southampton, depending on how they get on against Sunderland.
With all those crunch games still to play it would appear Villa have done enough already to stay up – but football fans know the show’s not over until the fat lady sings (take your pick which female football director you want to add there), so we’ll still be praying for a point or better from our final home game of the season this weekend.
Article by James Fisher
Calling all Villa fans: Do you think you are safe? How pleased have you been with the turnaround in recent weeks? Are you excited for the future under Paul Lambert? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.
Follow me on Twitter at @sqf_illingworth