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xV: It’s all about three points these days

Aston Villa had to grind out their last two wins, and at this time of the year, that’s quite fine.

Aston Villa v Burton Albion - Sky Bet Championship
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03 : Jack Grealish of Aston Villa during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Burton Albion at Villa Park on February 03, 2018 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

So, I’m gonna level with you here: I watched, like, maybe 30 minutes of Villa’s back-to-back wins over Sheffield United and Burton Albion, matches I’m supposed to be recapping in this edition of xV. The Blades match has a good excuse (I was at my “day job”) but missing most of the Brewers match doesn’t have a good excuse, because I stupidly scheduled my eye doctor appointment for 11 a.m. on Saturday, with the idea that I wanted to sleep in as much as I could. Villa played at 10, and I woke up at 6:45. What a brilliant idea that was.

I’ve also been super busy, which is (a) why xV is late and (b) why I haven’t really had a chance to catch up on these last few matches. We’re going to keep xV a little more meta today and shoehorn in a mini-preview of the big Second City Derby on Sunday.

As a quick aside, if you follow me on Twitter, your timeline has probably been inundated with tweets about my high school alma mater’s basketball teams. I’m from Indiana, and we take our basketball really seriously here (see Hoosiers or, if you’re British, Best Shot). Anyway, our girls basketball team beat our biggest rival on Saturday night to win the sectional tournament, which advances them to the final 16 of the season-ending state tournament. It was a really big night for all of us, and it was really great to share it with kids I went to school with, teachers I had in class, a coach that coached me, and a fantastic group of teenagers who’ve worked really hard this year.

Above all, though, it was a reminder that the greatest thing about sports is how they can be a unifying force for an entire community — I saw that with my University High School community (yes, we know, it’s a weird name) community Saturday night.

That was one of those moments where something really positive brought us together, but unfortunately, life doesn’t only give us highlights, and these communities can be particularly influential when things are rough.

I hope that as a Villa community, we’re able to rally behind Steve Bruce and give the gaffer a lot of support Sunday (or whenever he returns to the touchline if he misses the derby). Life is bigger than football, and I think that he could really use the full support of our community in the coming weeks.

Anyway, onto the proper bit of xV:

This column doesn’t matter anyway

I always say that, at the beginning of a year, I’m more concerned about my team’s performances than I am about my points tally. Sure, you want to get points on the board, but I’d rather be the team that’s playing good football, but not getting full points, than be the team that’s playing awful football, but somehow fluke-ing their way to wins (hello, Ipswich Town, who are — believe it or not — not one of the best teams in the league like their early season form suggested).

All that goes out the window right now. There is one thing that matters for Aston Villa: winning. Villa could get outshot 30-1 on Sunday, but win 1-0, and I’d sit here telling you that it was a great performance (ok, not really, but you get the sentiment). The most important thing at this time of year isn’t necessarily playing good football, it’s being able to get points out of whatever level of performance you put out there.

This is what Villa have done the last two times out. They haven’t necessarily been convincing, and at Bramall Lane, it looked like they were set to settle for a point before Robert Snodgrass scored in the 89th minute to win the match, but they’re getting the job done. At this point of the season, Villa’s lone goal is to finish with more points than Derby County, Cardiff City, Fulham, Bristol City, etc.

In some ways, that Villa aren’t necessarily playing well, but are winning matches, is more encouraging than if they were simply dominating teams every time out. My biggest concern with Villa and the chase for automatic promotion has been the idea that there’s a run of poor form coming down the pike at some point. What if this is the run of “poor” form and Villa are still finding ways to get three points?

Let’s talk about the term “undeserved”

Would you like some salt with that, Burton? The words you may be looking for are “A goal against the run of play for Aston Villa,” not “an undeserved goal for Aston Villa.”

I mean, think through what the Burton Albion Twitter account has said here. The key phrases are “Adomah squares it to Hogan” and “empty net.” This is literally the best chance in football! Squaring the ball, from inside the penalty area, to someone who only has to score into an empty net is going to result in a goal 99 percent of the time. Aston Villa absolutely deserved that goal, because they played one of the best moves that anyone in this division has played all season long.

But we use the terms “deserved” and “undeserved” way too often as a crutch in football — that, for some reason, the team that has the run of play deserves to be ahead. In contrast, I believe that the team that scores more goals deserves to be ahead.

Really, the only time I like using the term “deserved” or “undeserved” is when the referee’s made an error that leads to, or denies, a penalty. Otherwise… put the ball in the back of the net and you have no worries.

Blues are actually playing well right now

They’ve won two on the trot and their attack is finally starting to click — in Birmingham City’s last three league matches, they’ve taken 31 shots from inside the penalty area. That’s really good, and they’ve been rewarded with seven goals and seven points.

Granted, they’ve also been helped by their opposition (Preston, who are decent; Sunderland and a 9-man Sheffield Wednesday), but Blues finally look like something that resembles an actual Championship football side that’s capable of being better than awful.

Don’t get me wrong, Villa should win this match — but don’t be surprised if Blues come out looking like more like a mid-table team that’s willing to get forward and attack than the relegation battlers they are.