The 3-1 win at Stoke moved Aston Villa ahead of Sunderland and Wigan in the relegation battle, and of the teams at the bottom, Villa deserve their safety more than most.
At the end of the season, the cliché is that the table does not lie, and those who deserve to stay in the division will do so. But to take this approach ignores a great deal about the teams involved, and there are several reasons why many neutrals will hope that Aston Villa stay in the Premier League this season.
Aside from a somewhat incredible run over Christmas, where at one stage Villa shipped 15 goals in a row without reply in losses to Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Wigan, Paul Lambert's side have generally been competitive in most matches. In fact their position in the league would perhaps not be in doubt at all if Everton, Swansea City and West Brom had not snatched late equalisers at home to deny Villa excellent victories.
They have done this fielding a team that is notable in its use of young players, many of whom have come through Aston Villa's own academy, a policy they will likely continue given their recent success in the European wide NextGen competition.
Villa have also played attacking football in their attempts to scramble clear of the relegation zone, with Manchester City the only side to stop them scoring in the past ten Premier League matches. The win over Stoke at the weekend highlighted the different approach of each side, and plenty of people would argue that having Villa in the league instead of Pulis' side would make for a more interesting division.
Above all is the fact that Aston Villa have more potential to succeed if they can survive in the league than many of the teams around them. With their team full of young talent and managed by Paul Lambert, Villa have a real chance to develop into an excellent side and push up the table, with this year’s experience likely to prove invaluable in the development of their youthful side.
image: © ell brown