By Graham Hill
IT does not seem possible. But it’s true. Villa have made it into the Championship Play-offs.
And, on current form, they are favourites to go up.
The enormity of what has been achieved by Dean Smith in a short space of time cannot be under estimated.
After Villa’s 10th win in a row on Monday – a 1-0 win over a difficult Millwall side – Smith hinted at a half-time rollocking at Stoke City which turned the team’s season around.
No matter that Smith had come in from Brentford and probably he was not the new owners’ first choice as manager.
I mean, imagine where Villa would be now if Thierry Henry had accepted the job!
Smith may have been the lower profile appointment, but now his stock is on the rise again.
I suspect Smith has had to deal with factions and divisions within the Villa camp.
Whispers about players coming to the end of their contracts not giving 100 per cent were doing the rounds.
The season could have ended badly for everyone concerned.
But Smith’s crisis management has done the trick. The former Walsall boss may seem affable on the surface, but clearly he has the ‘edge’ needed to get what he needs out of players.
Getting results is one thing, but a new club record 10 win run is something else entirely.
Talk about pulling a rabbit out of the hat.
But Smith is right. There is no point in celebrating the re-writing of club history if the bubble bursts in the play-offs.
Don’t forget, Smith has had to overcome several hurdles on the way to this sequence of wins.
While the return of Jack Grealish has played a major part – along with key contributions from several other players, there have also been difficulties.
The injury situation had to be managed carefully, but they have won even when players like Grealish, Tyrone Mings and Tammy Abraham have been missing for varying reasons.
It would be nice to win the final two games of the season and keep the run going.
But equally, it would be no surprise to see Smith rest some players with the play-offs in mind.
Villa have come too far to let it slip now – they have given themselves the chance to win a promotion that looked unlikely two months ago. They must not waste it.