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Doing the maths: Villa’s promotion hopes are probably done

After losses at Cardiff and Wolves, Villa probably find themselves too far behind to mount a serious promotion push.

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 08: Steve Bruce, Manager of Aston Villa looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa at White Hart Lane on January 8, 2017 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

I think that’s all she wrote.

After Aston Villa’s dreadful 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday, Villa’s promotion hopes are, at best, tenuous. Their promotion odds are out to 11-to-1, which honestly feels too high, and more importantly, Villa sit seven places and 10 points behind the final play-off spot. Things don’t look good.

How dire are they, though? Let’s take two looks.

Making up the gap

If Villa are to win promotion, they must do the following things…

  • Make up a 10-point gap to pass Sheffield Wednesday OR an 11-point gap to pass Huddersfield Town or Reading
  • Make up a 5-point gap to pass Derby County AND a 4-point gap to pass Fulham AND a 4-point gap to pass Preston North End AND a 3-point gap to pass Barnsley AND a 2-point gap to pass Norwich City AND a 1-point gap to pass Birmingham City

Oh, and they only have 20 matches to do those things. It’s great, really.

Obviously, some of these aren’t particularly ambitious targets — but it’s unlikely Villa can do all of the things required.

Say Huddersfield fall off the pace and manage just 24 points the rest of the way. That would mean Villa would only need 35 points in 20 matches to catch the Terriers. Tough, yes, but doable. But there’s a problem here: If Derby win 30 points from 20 matches, or Fulham win 31 (from 21), that 35-point performance from Villa isn’t enough, as they’d catch Huddersfield but still finish outside the top six. Perhaps Norwich have a 33-point run in them between now and the end of the season; that would also do it.

Even if Villa have a strong run of form, it’s difficult to see how others in front aren’t going to have their own strong runs of form between now and the end of the season. Remember, not only do Villa have to massively outplay one of the sides in the top six, but they also have to outplay (somewhat significantly, in a few cases) six other sides between them and the top six. That’s difficult.

Hitting a points target

Let’s look at it from a different perspective, though: let’s set a points target. If Villa reach 75 points, I posit, they will qualify for the play-offs.

For Villa to hit 75 points, the likely minimum a side have to get to for play-off qualification this year (Wednesday are on pace for 80 right now), they’d have to win 40 points from their remaining 20 matches — a simple average of two points per match. But that’s harder to do than it might sound.

If Villa win 12 times, draw 4 and lose 4, that’s the 40 points. Let’s play a game: How far back was Villa’s 12th most recent win?

Answer: 9 May 2015, when Villa beat West Ham United to effectively secure Premier League survival. Since, the Claret and Blues won 3 times in the league in 2015-16 and have won 8 times so far this season. Or in other words, Villa have won 12 of their last 67 matches.

You expect them to turn it around and suddenly win 12 of 20? It seems unlikely.

And even if we want to just talk about this year’s team, there’s one glaring issue that comes up: the road form. Villa have won just twice away from home this year in 14 league matches, and no matter how solid Villa are at home, there’s no sign that the road form is going to suddenly turn around — dire losses at Cardiff and Wolves raise huge question marks, even for when Jonathan Kodjia returns.

Oh yeah, and all of that assumes that 75 points are going to be enough.

The conclusion

No matter how you look at it, it’s tough to see a path for Villa to return to the Premier League next season — between the struggles to secure points under Roberto Di Matteo and the dire road performances under Steve Bruce, Villa have probably cost themselves too much already to realistically have a chance to be in the top six at the end of the season.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that it’s impossible. Great teams do average two points per match over the course of the season — it’s the pace Brighton and Newcastle United have roughly been on — but can Villa get to the status of a “great” team between now and the end of the window? I don’t think so.

And that’s why, perhaps, it’s time to turn at least one eye toward next season, when Bruce will hopefully lead an improved Villa side into a season looking for automatic promotion. If there’s a nice ride between now and the end of the year, by all means, enjoy it. But don’t count on the season going past match 46.