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How can Villa finish second? By getting a lot of help from some unlikely friends

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Cardiff City’s loss Tuesday night kept Villa’s slim automatic promotion hopes alive. What would actually have to happen for the Claret and Blues to leapfrog both Cardiff and Fulham in the final two weeks to go up?

Aston Villa v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 10: Lee Peltier of Cardiff City in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Cardiff City at Villa Park on April 10, 2018 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Cardiff City lost 3-1 to Derby County on Tuesday night, which was a great result that somewhat unexpectedly kept Aston Villa’s extremely slim automatic promotion hopes alive. The Claret and Blues are four points back of the Bluebirds with two matches to play — they would’ve been eliminated with a Cardiff win — and would also need to leapfrog Fulham, who they’re three points behind.

If nothing else, it’ll make Saturday’s sold-out match with Derby a lot more interesting than it was 48 hours ago and create a great atmosphere at Villa Park. That’s because, no matter what Fulham’s result against Sunderland is Friday night, Villa will still have a chance to win automatic promotion when they kick off Saturday. If Villa win, and Cardiff fail to beat Hull City away, the Claret and Blues will stay in the race through the final day. That’d be fun.

Before we dive into scenarios, a note on goal differential: Fulham are +34, Villa are +31, Cardiff are +28. If Villa and Cardiff finish level at 86 or 88 points, Villa will win the tiebreak on goal differential (since neither scenario that would produce a tie gives Cardiff a chance to improve, or Villa to worsen, their goal differentials). Fulham becomes more complicated — the Cottagers have scored five more goals than Villa, so the Claret and Blues would probably need to get ahead of Fulham to win a tiebreaker at 85, 86 or 88 points.

Now let’s break these scenarios into two groups — the ones if Villa win their last two matches and the ones where Villa only win four points.

If Villa defeat both Derby and Millwall

Scenario A – Straightforward

  • Cardiff drop points against both Hull and Reading
  • Fulham drop points against both Sunderland and Birmingham

Scenario B – Complicated

  • Cardiff drop points against both Hull and Reading
  • Fulham defeat one of Sunderland or Birmingham, but lose to the other
  • Villa’s goal differential in the final two matches must be at least +4 relative to Fulham’s

If Villa win their final two matches, they finish on 88 points. If Cardiff drop points in their final two matches, they finish on no more than 88 points. Since Villa already have the goal differential edge against Cardiff, and would only add to it in the scenario, we wouldn’t have to worry about the Bluebirds.

In the first scenario, it’s easy: Fulham finish on no more than 87 points, and Villa go up in second.

In the second one, it’s harder: Villa must make up the goal differential gap, as both sides finish on 88 points. Here’s an example of a run of results that would send Villa up:

  • Villa defeat Derby 2-0 and Millwall 3-1
  • Fulham defeat Sunderland 2-1, but lose to Birmingham 1-0

Here, Villa go to +35 while Fulham finish at +34.

Alright, now for the wholly unrealistic scenario.

If Villa defeat one of Derby or Millwall, then draw with the other

Scenario C – Straightforward

  • Cardiff lose to both Hull and Reading
  • Fulham lose to both Sunderland and Birmingham

Scenario D – Complicated

  • Cardiff lose to both Hull and Reading
  • Fulham draw against one of Sunderland or Birmingham, but lose to the other
  • Villa’s goal differential in the final two matches must be at least +4 relative to Fulham’s

Villa can get to 86 points with a win and a draw. That’s where Cardiff currently are, so Villa would need them to lose both matches. If Fulham lose twice in a row, too, Villa are up as the Cottagers stay on 85.

If Fulham would draw one of the two matches, though, Villa would have to make up the goal differential gap. A 3-goal win for Villa, coupled with a 1-goal loss for Fulham, would do it.

The takeaways

Now that I’ve convinced you it’s possible, a reminder: Villa need the 18th-, 19th-, 20th- and 24th-placed teams in the table to get results against the second- and third-placed teams for any of this to be remotely possible. While they can get away with Sunderland not getting a result, you’re probably going to be asking your arch rival, perhaps with nothing to play for, to beat a team to help you out AND you still need Cardiff to drop points twice.

Oh, and your reminder that Fulham haven’t lost in ages.

At least three, if not four, improbable things would have to happen for Villa to even have a chance, and that doesn’t even consider that Villa have to take care of business against two teams fighting for their promotion lives for it to even matter — and given some of their recent performances in key games, I’m not sure how confident I’d be.

Regardless, it’s fun going into this weekend with something, even if it’s something so slim, to play for. Let’s get carried away.