Going into the play-off final on Monday Aston Villa fans are sure to be looking for ways to feel more confident.
After all, this is the biggest game of their season.
The Villans tasted heartbreak at Wembley this time last year, losing out to Fulham at the national stadium. So a year on, what’s changed? Arguably a great deal.
The club have new owners, a new manager and a better squad to boot. Dean Smith, backed by Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris have helped change the face of the football club this season.
Formerly of Brentford, the now Villa manager has done a sterling job in taking his side to the play-off final. All that remains now is to achieve something they couldn’t do against the Cottagers in 2018.
Villa’s form lately shows they deserve to go up. That ten game winning streak and the battling displays against West Brom over two legs prove that.
And going into their clash with Derby, they’ll hold an advantage. This season Villa haven’t conceded to the Rams, winning 3-0 and 4-0. They were fantastic wins but Frank Lampard’s men are now a different beast.
Those are just two of three occasions in which Smith has got the better over Derby though. The only other match in eight previous meetings was a 4-0 win for Brentford in April 2017. When he does beat them, he seems to go big.
What we can expect judging by the 48-year-old’s record against the Rams are goals. He’s only ever had one goalless draw with the Derbyshire club, whilst in the last four meetings between Smith and Monday’s opponents, one team has scored three or more goals. That’s per 11v11’s records for both Villa and Brentford.
Derby weren’t exactly watertight against Leeds so that may well continue. Of course, this game cannot end in a draw. Extra-time and penalties will be needed if necessary. It’s an eventuality both sides will be wanting to avoid.
Recent omens suggest Villa will reign victorious. You feel the Rams will have to spring an almighty surprise given their two displays against the Midlands club in 2018/19.
However, in a one-off game at Wembley anything can happen.
Smith only beat Derby once when he was with the Bees. For Villa’s sake, they’ll be hoping he can avoid his previous mistakes.