Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has warned his side that despite their impressive recent run of results, no player is guaranteed his spot.
The Villans beat fellow play-off rival Bristol City 2-1 at the weekend, extending their unbeaten run to eight matches.
Tammy Abraham and Conor Hourihane scored for the home side, while star man Jack Grealish was absent through illness.
With just four games left in the Championship regular season, Villa have a five-point cushion on seventh place Middlesbrough, and save for a disastrious end to the campaign, the Midlands club should feel comfortable in qualifiying for the promotion play-offs.
However, with the end approaching, head coach Smith has issued a warning to his players, saying no-one should consider themselves irreplaceable in his starting line-up for the remaining fixtures.
As reported by the Birmingham Mail, Smith had this to say:
I said after the game that it was great that we won the game without Jack Grealish because he’s been an integral part – and people will look at it and think we’re a one man team – but I also said I’d much rather have him in my team because he’s one of the best players in this league.
But nobody is guaranteed a place in this team.
Grealish is back available again for Villa’s trip to face Botlon at the University of Bolton Stadium on Friday afternoon, and the expectation is that he could replace John McGinn in Smith’s line-up.
The Scotland international midfielder has received 13 cautions this season, and is currently running the risk of missing out during Villa’s play-off campaign if he picks up a further two bookings in the final few games.
Speaking on whether he would drop McGinn for that vert reason, Smith continued:
It would depend on where we were in the league at that time and whether we were mathematically certain of the play-offs.
Or whether he is playing well or not. At the moment it’s nothing to worry about, he is on 13. If he gets one on Friday then I will start worrying. At the moment, I don’t need to.
Villa's final four opponents of the season
Bolton Wanderers (A)
Wanderers are dangerously close to their relegation to League One being confirmed, so will likely come out fighting.
However, having won less games than Villa have lost this season, the travelling side should feel confident.
Millwall’s future in the Championship is also uncertain, and alongside Wigan Athletic and Rotherham United, and to a lesser extend Reading, the Lions are likely to be desperate for points.
With a home win, Villa will hope to have their play-off qualification tied up.
Leeds United (A)
Villa’s final two games of the season are much more difficult than both Middlesbrough’s and Derby County’s.
Leeds are currently fighting with Sheffield United for the second automatic spot alongside likely league winners Norwich, and should Villa fail to beat either Bolton or Millwall, much more could ride on this fixture.
Norwich City (H)
Norwich sit at the top of the table, and are very likely to win the title come the season’s close.
While Villa could well beat the Canaries, the club will want to ensure they aren’t dependant on a result against Daniel Farke’s men come the final day.
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