It has been a long time in the making, but it finally looks and feels as though Aston Villa are back. The resurrection is not yet complete, and the Fat Lady hasn`t even set off for the gig, much less is she warming up.
But a run of seven consecutive victories has breathed life back into our great club, and for the first time since our abject and humiliating relegation, we finally look like a team again. The win over Small Heath has propelled us into second place in the division, the second, precious automatic promotion slot and crucially perhaps, it is now in our own hands.
The equation is simple – win our remaining games and we will be promoted. A tall order for sure, with 15 games still to go. History, common sense and the law of averages says that we will not win all 15 games, but 10 wins from those matches should be enough to see us over the line.
The fact we still have to play Fulham (away), and then Cardiff and Derby at Fortress Villa Park means we have a very real opportunity to assure our place back in the Premier League. 10 wins would put us on 89 points, enough to go up automatically in the past two seasons (although Middlesbrough had to rely on goal difference in 2016).
Even if we fail to secure a place in the top two, we should be a shoo-in for the playoffs, and the way we are playing, need have nothing to fear from the likes of Fulham, Sheffield United or Bristol City. What a time to be a Villa fan – at last!
After near enough 10 years of misery, we finally have something to shout about. The atmosphere on Sunday was electrifying – I can`t remember the last time the old place was rocking like that. Maybe Atletico in 1998? When Stan Collymore scored, I was sure the roof had come off the Holte End. Maybe Sandwell in the Cup quarter-final in 2015? But there was a bit of an undercurrent of nerves and fear that day, something not in the air on Sunday.
It was spine-tingling hearing the Holte in full cry. The Trinity and the North Stands took their cue and the place was really rocking. A fitting show of solidarity, particularly for Steve Bruce, and the emotion was all too much for him as Albert Adomah swept home our opening goal. Conor Hourihane`s beauty put the icing on the cake and neatly punctuated a match we never looked likely to lose.
Have a Lion pic.twitter.com/tFVN1HoBnW
Colin Keating (@col8av) February 11, 2018
Even when Small Heath`s Sam Gallagher struck a Holte End post in the dying moments of the first half, there already seemed an inevitability that we would score – it was only a matter of time.
in a team full of heroes, Jack Grealish properly came of age. He ran the show and refused to be intimidated by the physical tactics employed by Small Heath. The consistency he is showing now he has a run in the side (and has, thankfully, remained injury-free at last) will be vital to our aspirations, and England consideration is even being touted in some quarters.
Scott Hogan likewise ran himself into the ground in a performance which had everything but a goal, while the controversial selection (for some) of Mile Jedinak in place of in-form Birkir Bjarnason was more than vindicated by the Australian`s dominant display.
You could finally feel the ‘Pride, Passion and Purpose’ the TV screens implore before every match, not just on the pitch, but in the stands as well. The togetherness of the squad was there for all to see, and they fully played their part in what must have been one of the most difficult weeks of Steve Bruce`s life. After months, years maybe, of begging the players to give us something to shout about, they are finally delivering. And with the atmosphere generated on Sunday, my word didn`t it show?
Make no mistake, however – the run-in will be tough. Wolves look home and dry, while Derby and Cardiff show no real signs of folding under the pressure. We can only hope our run has not come too soon. The belief of the players is growing stronger every week and as the final straight approaches, the experience of John Terry, James Chester, Jedinak and indeed Bruce himself will hopefully give us the edge.
The dark days of the past seven or so years seem a lifetime away now, but everything we have achieved since the turn of the year will be easily forgotten if we don`t see this through. Season tickets are already up for sale – let`s hope they bear the logo of the Premier League by the time they drop through our letterboxes in the summer.