Getting into position

Dave Woodhall on Villa’s 1-0 win over Leeds and looking ahead.

There was a strange feeling around Villa Park before the match on Friday evening. Not only should we have been playing on Saturday afternoon, as the Lord intended, but it seemed that nobody was quite sure how games should now be approached.

It was a bit like being two-nil up with half an hour to go. Do you go for the third goal to kill the game off and in doing so risk letting one in, or sit back and defend what you’ve got? Tuesday evening’s win against Cardiff all but made a play-off place sure, so what’s to be done – go hell for leather in the hope that we can still sneak an unlikely second place, or should Steve Bruce start resting players for the play-offs? Given Villa’s injury record the latter might not have been a bad thing.

The team sheet certainly indicated that Bruce was looking further ahead than the next ninety minutes. Jonathan Kodjia made his first start since October and a midfield pairing of Glenn Whelan and Josh Onomah seemed more about resting others than aiming for a decisive performance.

As it was, Villa did enough to win against a side who have slumped down the table since this fixture was shifted for TV. Lewis Grabban got a goal after 29 minutes and while it should have been the first of many, sometimes they just won’t go in. There were enough chances to have the game won well before half-time, with Jack Grealish once more showing that he’s too good for this league and a good performance from Onomah.

Leeds had a bright opening ten minutes after the break and one goalbound effort was headed off the line, although their ideas soon dried up and Villa were able to see out the game with little worry. Kodjia was replaced after an infuriating 67 minutes in which he seemed to try a bit too hard and was often guilty of his old belief that he’s a one-man team. Robert Snodgrass had an off-night although while Villa’s finishing left something to be desired, a bonus this week has been the re-emergence of a tight defensive unit.

Better opposition might punish our inability to kill games off, but at the business end of the season you can’t really argue with two clean sheets in a row, particularly when our two most experienced defenders have been out. And as one-nil wins go, it was pretty straightforward.

The final whistle signified that Villa are now mathematically into the play-offs, as well as providing a couple more landmarks. 79 points is our biggest-ever total and fourteen home wins is, I believe, the highest number for over thirty years. And now the fun begins.

We can sit back for the next couple of days and watch what happens to everyone else. Villa are only a couple of points off second place, although that will undoubtedly change when Cardiff and Fulham play their games in hand. Then we have the rare phenomenon of no game in midweek before a trip to Ipswich and another team with nothing to play for.

The line-up there could well depend on what happens this weekend; defeats for the teams above us (unlikely, but you never know) and it’s game on again. If they both win, we could be seeing a team at Portman Road that’s more about getting players up to match fitness than winning three points. But that’s another debate, for another day.