Two years ago, Aston Villa spoiled a promotion party for Brighton and Hove Albion – this year, they have the chance to do the same against Norwich City, who joined them in the Sky Bet Championship for the 2016/17 season.
Villa have the chance to spoil Norwich’s party on Sunday, with a home win all but gifting the title to Sheffield United, who would then only need to win at mid-table Stoke City. There’s a lot of ifs and buts in this season finale, but if Villa can turn up and dampen celebrations, like they did to Brighton two seasons ago, Villa Park will be a very happy place.
As far as the expectations at Aston Villa go, a top-six finish this season was the absolute bare minimum. With the players we have had at our disposal, some would even say anything below 2nd place is underachieving but having been sat in the bottom-half of the table in March, the fact that a play-off spot was secured with games to spare is nothing short of heroic. And Villa need just one last push to avoid ending the regular season on what would be a sour note if Norwich City were to lift the trophy in the league’s biggest, most famous ground.
If Norwich City, the last remaining team relegated in the 15/16 season along with Villa, were to come to our home, put on a dominant display, beat us and lift the league trophy at the end of it all, it would stay in the minds of many Villa fans for a long time, albeit unwelcome. However, if there happens to be a repeat of the 16/17 season, where Brighton came to Villa Park needing a win to be Champions and conceded an 89th minute Jack Grealish goal to end their hopes, then every Villa fan will enjoy the final game of the regular season.
Two seasons ago, it was down to Aston Villa to decide who lifted the Championship trophy, and history has repeated itself already. Once again playing against the table-toppers, the stakes are a little different this time as a point would guarantee Norwich went up as Champions, but Villa are not going to roll over in what is their final preparation for the future-defining play-offs. Seeing silverware at Villa Park would be great, and a lot of Villa fans would have expected to this season, but seeing it lifted into the air by a man in a shirt that isn’t claret and blue would ruin it somewhat, so we need to make sure we don’t let that happen. Sheffield United will fancy their chances against Stoke, and with Villa currently on a 12-game unbeaten run, nobody would bet against us getting all three points on Sunday.
In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter at all and most people will probably barely even remember who out of Norwich and Sheffield United lifted the trophy anyway. But for confidence, history, trophy rooms and transfer windows, the title could be the difference for those two teams, and just like they did two years ago, Villa are going to have the final say. Looking at it as a neutral I have no issues whatsoever with Norwich winning the title, as I had no qualms about Brighton lifting the trophy, but it felt so sweet preventing the direct opposition from celebrating in 2017, and it would feel even better this time around, being the perfect confidence boost for the play-offs.
Villa, obviously having more than one eye on the play-offs, won’t be full strength and likely won’t care who wins the league, but once that games starts, the only objective is three points. Sheffield United will only finish top if Villa win and they themselves win, so there are still a lot of permutations, but once again in the Championship title race, its going down to the wire, and that wire ends at Villa Park.