By Graham Hill
IT seems there are plenty of hurdles in Villa’s way right now – and Dean Smith’s are overcoming them all with ease on their way to the Play-offs.
Their midweek trip to Rotherham saw them reduced to 10 men and go a goal down – but they won comfortably to make it seven wins in a row.
But eight successive victories looked a tall order when captain Jack Grealish was ruled out before the game with top six rivals Bristol City due to illness.
That was added to Tyrone Mings’ suspension and Jonathan Kodjia’s rib injury.
Yet Villa rose to the challenge and, importantly, showed they can win without Jack Grealish.
The foundations of Villa’s eight match unbeaten run had been laid by the return of Grealish from injury at the beginning of March.
His inspirational displays have sparked others in the side and the question was whether that would still happen if he was not playing.
We need not have worried. Okay, Villa lacked a little cohesion in the opening stages.
And they needed a disputed penalty to get them on their way.
But this could have been an even bigger margin of victory – against a side who have had a new lease of life in the race for the Play-offs and were considered one of the form teams.
Had it not been for their keeper, this could have been four or five by the end.
It all points to Villa making the Play-offs and being one of the favourites to win promotion.
No-one can count any chickens yet of course – even though Easter is approaching.
But a ninth straight victory at struggling Bolton on Friday looks likely.
And if they can beat Millwall at Villa Park the following Monday, Villa would have 75 points and that will take some overhauling by anyone currently outside of the top six.
In a way, the absence of Grealish and Mings could be seen as a blessing in disguise as they will have had a nine-day break by the time the Bolton game comes around.
Everything is pointing to a Villa v West Brom Play-off semi-final – and Baggies could have Alex Neil in place then as Albion throw everything at a return to the Premier League.
But Villa have around six weeks worth of momentum now and this bandwagon will take some stopping.