By GRAHAM HILL
SUDDENLY Villa are being tipped to make the Championship play-offs for the second season running.
It was only a few weeks ago that Dean Smith’s season looked to be over and he could start planning for the summer rebuild.
But three wins in a row have got the fans dreaming again.
And if Jack Grealish can continue to influence Villa’s performances as he has been doing for the last three games, then a return to Wembley in May is not out of the question.
So we thought we would break down Villa’s run-in to the end of the season to see how many points it was realistically possible to win from a possible 27.
There are nine games left, here we have analysed Villa’s prospects.
SATURDAY, MIDDLESBROUGH (h): Villa have had the better of Boro over the past few months, knocking them out of last year’s play-off semi finals and beating them 3-0 at the Riverside in December. But you never can tell with a Tony Pulis side… FORECAST: 2-1, Villa.
SATURDAY, MARCH 30, BLACKBURN (h): Rovers have been a mixed bag this season although they did beat Wigan 3-0 last time out. They lie in mid table and are currently nine points off the top six so Villa should be able to use home advantage… FORECAST: 2-0, Villa
SATURDAY, APRIL 6: SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (a): This could go either way with Steve Bruce facing up to the club that sacked him earlier this season. Bruce may not admit it, but he will be desperate to win and knows the Villa team inside out as he signed most of them. The Owls draw too many games though…FORECAST: 1-1
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10, ROTHERHAM (a): The Millers have picked up some useful results recently, but Villa should be able to go to the New York Stadium and collect three more points. Rotherham are fighting for their lives and these teams can find a second wind later in the season, but fans will expect a win but it could be close…FORECAST: 0-1, Villa
SATURDAY, APRIL 13, BRISTOL CITY (h): A tricky game but City’s play-off bid has been fading in recent weeks. Lee Johnson’s side are going to need to turn things around, but as things stand, Villa are on the up and the Robins are slipping back… FORECAST: 2-1, Villa
FRIDAY, APRIL 19, BOLTON (a): Another trip that looks winnable for Dean Smith’s side. Bolton’s problems have been well documented this season and Villa ought to be able to collect another victory here. The game is being played on Good Friday and Villa should rise to the occasion… FORECAST: 0-2, Villa
MONDAY, APRIL 22 MILLWALL (h): Here’s where it could get tricky. Millwall love to spoil the party and could still need points to stay up. They have travelled to Derby and Birmingham recently and won games, so Villa will have to be wary of the ‘other’ Lions… FORECAST: 1-1
SATURDAY, APRIL 27. LEEDS (a): Even on recent form, I don’t see Villa getting anything at Leeds, but I’d love to be proved wrong. Marcelo Bielsa’s side went top of the table in December after coming from behind at Villa to win 3-2. Bielsa may, as he claimed, have spied on Villa at Bodymoor Heath, but they should be closing on on a top two place by this time… FORECAST: 2-1, Leeds
SUNDAY, MAY 5, NORWICH (h): Villa could hardly have had a tougher end to the season and this game could have a bearing for both sides. Hopefully, Villa’s top six place is assured by this time, but the Canaries could still be battling for the title… FORECAST: 1-1
PROJECTED TALLY, 18 POINTS, TOTAL: 72. That is with Villa losing one game and drawing three. Last season, that would not have been good enough for the top six. Villa finished fourth with 83 points and the last time 72 was good enough for the play off was five years ago when Brighton finished sixth and lost the semi-final to Derby.