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Villa start down the path of returning to the promotion mix

Aston Villa have gotten off to a bright start under Steve Bruce. Extending this run of form would do wonders for working Villa back into the promotion mix.

Reading v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship
Steve Bruce, manager Aston Villa congratulates Albert Adomah and Jonathan Kodjia during the Sky Bet Championship match between Reading and Aston Villa at Madejski Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Reading, England.
Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa side is doing things we haven’t seen at Villa Park in what feels like ages. That whole, “win a match, then win another” thing is quite nice. While a look at the table will show Villa still 16th, far from where any of us want the club, the feel-good environment around B6 tells a different story — we have belief again.

Is that belief well-placed, though? We know this Villa team is talented, sure, but how good can it be the rest of the way? Can it be good enough to chase down a sixth-place position and a spot in the promotion play-off come May?

As it sits today, Villa are just six points off of that sixth-place spot. From a pure numbers standpoint, that’s not too far — just win a couple more matches and you make that up. But there are also nine teams between Villa and that Bristol City side in sixth. Even if Villa rattle off a few more wins in a row, climbing into the top six isn’t something that’s going to happen anytime soon.

And that’s okay.

At this point in the season, we should be focused about getting Villa to a points target, and hope it’s enough, and not a specific position. Qualifying for the play-offs has, roughly on average, taken 75 points over the last 20 years in the Championship, and the current pace being set by Bristol City is no different (75.6 points). That means that, between now and the end of the season, Villa need to amass 58 points in 32 matches. It’s a decent pace, sure, but is it realistic?

Well, extrapolated to a full season, that’s an 83.4-point pace. Not quite automatic promotion (90 points is typically around the required mark), but also the mark of a comfortable play-off side.

If we all looked at what Villa are, I think we could agree that’s about the talent level of this side. There are still weaknesses, sure — the midfield, fullback and goalkeepers positions stick out to me as things that could hurt — but Villa probably have the best forwards in the league. If you told me we’re the fourth-best team in the league, I’d probably be able to buy it.

So yeah, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to still have one eye on promotion at this stage in the year.

More closely, what does that pace actually look like? Well, to get to 58 points the rest of the way, one path is 16 wins, 10 draws, 6 losses. Another is 17 wins, 7 draws, 8 losses. You can go either way from here, but if Villa simply win half of their remaining matches, then draw half of the ones they don’t win, they’ll hit 73 points. Close enough that a good finishing run of form does the trick.

On one hand, then, Bruce has already fulfilled the target for the opening four matches in three, gaining those two wins and one draw in a four-match stretch. On the other, though, it’s Birmingham City next Sunday. Let’s win that one too, please.

But it hints at another truth of the matter — Villa will hit a couple runs of poor form the rest of the way. You know, the ones where we don’t win in five, lose four of six, etc.

That’s why the next two matches, as Villa head into another international break, are so crucial. If the Claret and Blues can get six points between Birmingham City (anything’s reasonable in a derby) and Blackburn Rovers (who are bad and a team Villa need to beat home and away), we won’t move much closer to the top six, but we’ll better our pace in the short-term. That gives Villa a bit more leeway on the back end; for every couple runs of good form, you can afford one of those runs of poor form. That should be the target.

The next two matches present a great opportunity for the Claret and Blues. Things are going well, sure, but days like Saturday need to become the routine, not the exception. Fingers crossed it’ll continue next week.