Aston Villa avenged their humiliating loss in the Championship Playoffs final 12 months ago by beating Derby County 2-1 to bounce back in the Premier League after three seasons in the Championship. Nevertheless, hard work starts now for Dean Smith and John Terry.
Haunted by the agony of the play-off final loss they suffered 12 months ago, Aston Villa finally banished the memories by winning promotion back to the Premier League by beating Derby County 2-1. Goals from Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn earned a deserved win over the Rams at Wembley.
Villa’s good work in the first half was rewarded with a goal on the stroke of half-time through El Ghazi. Derby keeper Kelle Roos’ howler gifted Villa their second through McGinn, making sure Villa were in the driver's seat with just thirty minutes to go.
Super-sub Jack Marriott’s third goal in two games made things a little bit awkward for Villa late on, but it was Dean Smith’s men who held their nerve to win the most lucrative game in football. Despite seven minutes of injury time, Derby could not find a way past a resolute Villa side.
The result saw Villa return to top-flight at the third time of asking, avenging last season’s painful final defeat to Fulham. The result also denied Rams boss Frank Lampard a dream end to his first season as manager and Derby will now play in the second tier for another season as they embark on another promotion quest.
It has been an eventful season for Villa. Steve Bruce was dismissed in October with the club enduring a poor run of form. Smith and Terry took charge and it looked like fortunes were about to change for one of England’s most successful clubs. However, the loss of star player Jack Grealish to injury saw things go terribly for them and a place in the playoffs looked unattainable.
For all that, Grealish’s return coincided with a remarkable run for Villa, who won ten matches on the spin to book a place in the playoffs with two games to spare.
After all the wild celebrations, the hard work starts now for them.
Smith will have to be backed significantly if they want to prolong their stay among the big boys. Of the last five Championship playoff winners, only Huddersfield Town have survived relegation. However, they couldn’t avoid it in the following season.
Smith and his team must be prudent in their approach to strengthening their squad, but that does not necessarily mean they will survive. They’ll have to invest smartly and try and keep the current core intact in order to have any chance of staying up.
By going up Grealish, arguably the best player in the Championship will most likely stay. This should warm the hearts of the fans. Still only 23 years of age, Grealish can be the cornerstone of this Villa side in next season’s Premier League.
Players will come and go and there will be optimism heading into their 106th season in the top flight. However, survival will be Villa’s priority next season.