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xV: Looking back at the eight minutes that turned the play-off race on its head

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Aston Villa were drawing 1-1 at Hillsborough. Both Bristol City and Derby County were ahead. The Claret and Blues were set to drop out of the top six and lose control of their own destiny. In eight minutes’ time, though, everything changed.

Sheffield Wednesday v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - APRIL 06: Albert Adomah of Aston Villa scores his sides second goal during the Bet Championship match between Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa at Hillsborough Stadium on April 06, 2019 in Sheffield, England.
Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a series about the numbers behind Villa’s results. Dean Smith’s men are headed to the promotion play-off! Today, we look back at my key moment from the end-of-season run that got Villa into the top six.

There were a lot of important moments during Aston Villa’s crucial, 10-match winning streak that clinched a play-off spot. Some that immediately come to mind:

  • The four first-half goals against Derby County that kick-started the whole thing, a show of strong attacking prowess
  • A huge, gritty 1-0 derby win over Birmingham City that followed, a match not necessarily remembered for the football played
  • 10-man Villa’s second-half comeback at Rotherham United, where the Claret and Blues turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win
  • The 2-1 win over Bristol City, despite the absence of Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings, arguably the two most important players to Villa’s run
  • Grinding out a 1-0 win over Millwall without key striker Tammy Abraham

Of all the moments in the 10-match run, though, I don’t think the most important is listed above.

If you took a look at the live table at 4:45 on 6 April, you probably didn’t like what you saw. Villa were drawing 1-1 at Hillsborough, seemingly trying to hold on for a single point against Steve Bruce’s in-form Sheffield Wednesday side, while both Bristol City and Derby County were ahead late in their matches. Villa were set to drop out of the top six, behind two clubs that still held a match in hand.

Here’s what Villa’s little snippet of the table looked like at 4:45 that day:

  • 5th: Bristol City, 64
  • 6th: Derby County, 62
  • 7th: Aston Villa, 61

This was a hard yikes situation for the Claret and Blues. Villa had entered that morning in control of their own destiny, and at this moment, they were squandering it back. Suddenly, the next weekend’s showdown with Bristol City looked like a must-win for the Claret and Blues.

But football is a funny sport, and the next 10 minutes of the Championship campaign turned the play-off race on its head.

At 4:46, the Claret and Blues moved back into the top six; Brentford got a third equaliser on the day at Griffin Park, drawing back level with Derby County at 3-3.

Then, at 4:52, Villa got another boost. Bristol City had turned a 1-0 halftime deficit around in the second half to lead Wigan Athletic, but they couldn’t see it out — Wigan equalised in stoppage time, bringing the Claret and Blues within a single point of fifth place.

In truth, when it happened, I didn’t notice that Wigan had scored. That’s because, as we all now know well, Villa were in the process of stealing the full three points at Hillsborough.

Albert Adomah’s winner, scored at 4:53 (just a minute after Wigan’s equaliser) suddenly thrust Villa into a 2-1 lead and, more importantly, into fifth place in the Championship table.

In the span of eight minutes, Villa went from seventh place, without control of their own destiny, to in complete control of the promotion race:

  • 5th: Aston Villa, 63
  • 6th: Bristol City, 62
  • 7th: Derby County, 60

Two minutes after Adomah’s goal, Villa added their 94th-minute insurance goal from Abraham just for the hell of it. It was an exclamation point on something Villa needed to do to make the playoffs: win when they didn’t “deserve” to.

It’s unrealistic to ask a team to go out and, for 10 consecutive outings, outplay their opponents. There’s enough solid teams in this division, and enough variance in the quality of a performance, that it’s a tough ask. And in truth, Villa couldn’t do it either. Wednesday were the “better” team on the day. They created the “better” chances. Yet Villa scored thrice, and Wednesday just once.

That’s football.

The aftermath

Villa’s next outing was a little shaky — that aforementioned 2-1 win at Rotherham was up next — but the Claret and Blues were able to keep their heads down and keep pushing forward.

Meanwhile, their rivals were either slow to recover, or never did recover, from their late setbacks that day.

Derby County followed up their 3-3 Brentford draw with a 2-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers. The Rams were good the rest of the way, and did enough to make the play-offs as the sixth seed, but they never seriously threatened Villa again in the table.

Meanwhile, that 93rd-minute equaliser from Wigan Athletic proved to be a mistake the Robins never shook. While Lee Johnson’s squad did go out and beat West Bromwich Albion in their next outing, they only managed one point from the next four matches, including key losses to both Villa and Derby, that functionally dropped them out of the promotion race.

Eight minutes. That’s all it took to turn the play-off race on its head.