Millwall’s Easter weekend continues with Monday’s visit to Villa Park (kick-off 1pm) to take on Dean Smith’s in-form Aston Villa, as four huge Sky Bet Championship fixtures remain in 2018/19. As The Lions prepare to visit the West Midlands, we take a look at Villa’s results so far this season.
Villa began their new season under the guidance of Steve Bruce, following Wembley heartbreak at the end of last term with the club’s Championship Play-Off Final defeat to Fulham. Amongst the favourites to regain their Premier League status, Villa brought in talent such as Yannick Bolasie, Anwar El Ghazi and Tammy Abraham on loan, with former captain John Terry retiring from his playing days and departing alongside Chris Samba and Jordan Amavi. The club’s pre-season schedule involved a trip to Germany as well as domestic friendlies, with wins over Walsall, Burton and Dynamo Dresden.
August proved to be an unbeaten first month for Bruce’s side, albeit with three straight draws. Two wins kicked off the campaign, scoring three in each away at Hull and at home against Wigan – the latter with a dramatic 94th-minute decider. The three points from a possible nine followed, in score draws with Ipswich, Brentford and Reading as Villa looked to find their feet and consistency. Away from the League, Bruce’s men first eliminated Yeovil in the First Round of the Carabao Cup, before being stopped by eventual Semi-Finalists Burton by a solitary goal. Villa sat an encouraging fourth going into September.
September was to be a frustrating month for the claret and blue side of the West Midlands. Unable to build on August's foundation, the side won just one League match, coming via a 2-0 success over Rotherham. Either side were disappointing defeats to the Steel City as Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday both claimed three points against The Villans, with 1-1 draws against Bristol City and Blackburn completing the month. Gaining five points from a possible 15, Villa plummeted to 15th in the table.
Affected by September's uninspiring form, October was make-or-break for Bruce. A home clash with Preston began the month, with Villa letting a 2-0 lead slip to eventually draw 3-3, missing a last-gasp penalty. It was to be the end of the road for the experienced manager, who would later take the reins at Sheffield Wednesday. A managerless visit to The Den saw Millwall run out 2-1 winners, with Shane Ferguson and Tom Elliott netting the decisive goals either side of the break. Former Brentford boss Dean Smith arrived at the helm at Villa Park, assisted by former England skipper Terry. A win over Swansea kicked matters off on the right note, before slender defeats to Norwich and QPR. Smith had his work cut out with the team sat in 16th.
Despite only four League games taking place during November, Villa's attacking brand began to show itself in the coming weeks as they hit no less than 14 goals across 360 minutes of football. A 2-0 win over Bolton and a remarkable 3-0 victory away at Derby were followed by the first Second City derby of the season against fierce rivals Birmingham City. Villa came out on top with a huge 4-2 win, and were only denied a 100% record for the month when Nottingham Forest secured a quite spectacular 5-5 draw at Villa Park in arguably the most entertaining match of the campaign to date. The 10 points saw Smith's men rise impressively to eighth.
December was to be a crucial month for The Championship's competing sides, with 18 League points up for grabs. A 3-0 win at Middlesbrough kicked off the festive month on a cracking note for Villa, before successive 2-2 draws against West Brom and Stoke. Whilst attacking football was no difficulty for Smith's team, they would still regularly ship goals and found themselves letting slip a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 against Leeds at Villa Park. Boxing Day's 1-0 win at Swansea was followed by the last game of 2018, a 1-1 draw at Preston. The Villans entered the New Year in ninth position.
The dawn of 2019 looked promising for Villa, as they continued to quietly work towards closing the gap on the promotion-chasing sides in the second half of the season. Form would be inconsistent for Smith's outfit, however - as draws against QPR and Hull were worsened with a 3-0 defeat at Wigan, despite a 2-1 win over basement boys Ipswich. The club were quickly dispatched in the Third Round of the Emirates FA Cup, via a 3-0 home loss to Swansea. The far from ideal form would carry on into February, as some fans settled for another certain year of Championship football next term.
A busy February would see the claret and blues stagger through without a win, claiming three points from a possible 15. However, one of these draws came in a thrilling 3-3 showpiece against Sheffield United, recovering amazingly from three goals down in the final eight minutes of the encounter. Further draws with Reading and Stoke were compounded with defeats without reply to Brentford and West Brom. The form around the autumn period however was to keep Villa's place safe in the top half, as they entered March in 11th with the best still yet to come.
From March 2nd to today, Villa have embarked on a quite remarkable run under Smith's guidance that has seen the West Midlands outfit pick up nine straight League wins, elevating them to fifth and inside the Play-Off positions by a healthy six points. A 4-0 win over Derby kicked March off on a resounding note, a warning sign to their upcoming opponents - no less than Second City rivals Birmingham. Villa claimed twofold bragging rights, as they would snatch a solitary Jack Grealish goal to claim a League double over The Blues in a fiery clash. A 3-1 away success at Nottingham Forest was followed up with two strong home wins, over Middlesbrough and Blackburn. Moving into April, Villa's spring purple patch showed no sign of slowing down with a double South Yorkshire triumph, coming out on top against Bruce's Sheffield Wednesday and survival hopefuls Rotherham. A 2-1 win against Play-Off challengers Bristol City was Villa's last outing on home soil heading into Monday, with Good Friday seeing Smith's men relegate Bolton with a 2-0 win at the UoB Stadium. A challenge relished by all associated with The Lions, it is undoubted that Millwall head to Villa Park to face the country's form team.