SATURDAY’S game at Stoke City could see Villa’s play-off hopes pretty much consigned to the litter bin for another year.

The only saving grace, and only glimmer of hope we had for this weekend’s visit to the Potteries, was the possible return of Jack Grealish. And now not even that will happen.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you Villa’s star midfielder has been out of action now since early December and the game at West Brom, the infamous Hand of Rod match.

Little did we know then but it would be three months before we would see Grealish back in action again.

In that time, Villa’s season has stumbled badly and it’s difficult to describe how much Grealish  has been missed.

He gives opponents so many problems, he draws them in to to him – and they are desperate to stop him. 

At his best, it seems as though all the opposition want to do is foul him as a way of keeping him quiet, but it allows other players in the team to flourish with the attention focused on Grealish.

Sadly, we really haven’t seen this in recent weeks due to his shin problems, and it would have been tremendous to see Grealish back in action at the bet365 stadium this weekend.

If Grealish can return soon and work his magic, then who knows, a run of results at this stage of the season can work wonders – look at Fulham last year. It is still possible for Villa to finish in the top six, let’s not forget that, but in reality it’s going to take a superhuman effort to make it happen.

But Grealish is the kind of player that does make things happen, it will be great to see him play again at the weekend, but also interesting to see how much effect that layoff has had on his fitness.

He is the one factor that could just about make the difference that is needed between now and the end of the season.

However that could be a double edged sword, it would seem likely that a return to form for the midfielder would see him wanted by Premier League clubs this summer, just as he was last year.


By Graham Hill

There’s no getting away from it, it’s been a disappointing season all round.

And unless Villa can somehow produce an incredible run of results between now and the end of the season, it’s difficult to see how they can be in the shake-up for the play-offs.

In the short term, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

But it’s also worth remembering what the alternative would have been had new owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens not rescued the club from the possibility of administration last summer.

Because that’s where the club were heading. A points deduction and the spectre of League One football.

To come out of that scenario just weeks before the start of the season and expect an immediate promotion push was, looking back, a tall order.

Villa were in intensive care last summer. Tony Xia’s gamble on spending big to win promotion last season failed spectacularly.

And yet, defeat in last year’s Championship play-off final was almost a blessing in disguise.

Promotion would have meant Xia staying and reaping the benefits of Premier League football.

And it might not have been pleasant, look at Fulham – they will do well to stay up this season.

As it was, Villa had to undergo months of pain and uncertainty before Sawiris and Edens arrived.

They are now among the richest men in the English game – and yet you can argue they have not had a chance to fly their financial muscle yet.

FFP rules meant Villa have not been in a position to splash out. Ironically, promotion last season would have released the shackles on Xia.

And next season, assuming Villa remain in the Championship, the TV money will dry up and FFP wrangles will still be an issue – even if they won’t handcuff the club.

Remember what happened to Wolves in the first season their Chinese owners Fosun took over? They did little to impact on the promotion chase and changed their manager mid-season.

A year later, they dominated and won the title. Now they have gone from strength to strength.

You have to believe that Villa’s backers are planning a similar campaign next season once this season’s out of contract players are moved on and boss Dean Smith can make a serious push.

It could be worth the wait.