Second chances are few and far between in a division as relentless and unforgiving as the Championship.
After their demise at Wembley last season though, Aston Villa have a wonderful second chance of getting back to the Premier League that they absolutely must take.
They must do so because if they don’t, they will be the number one hit-list club for newly promoted and current Premier League sides to exploit.
They have ready-made Premier League players in Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane and John McGinn who may be quite happy in making the step up to England’s topflight without them.
If they fail to get promoted again and the Premier League comes calling for even one of these three players, they will be reduced from a great to a good Championship team.
After their third season in the Championship, the parachute money from the Premier League is lost which is a hefty amount of funds lost from Villa’s bank account. They quite literally can’t afford not to get promoted this season.
As well as this, Villa have played the most dangerous game of all. They have brought in Premier League loan players to help improve the quality of the squad – which they have.
But Smith’s defence and attack is built entirely on the premise of these loan players. Their centre-back partnership that was so pivotal to their surge into the play-offs is Tyrone Mings and Axel Tuanzebe who are owned by Bournemouth and Manchester United respectively.
What’s more, their only out-and-out goalscorer is Tammy Abraham of Chelsea. The striker has scored 26 goals this season, 17 more than the second highest Aston Villa top scorer.
With Chelsea’s transfer ban, the London club might even need to keep hold of Abraham even if they do get promotion, never mind without it.
They key with these loan players is, once they have a good season in the Championship, most Premier League clubs will look to loan them out to Premier League clubs for that step-up in quality and experience.
The likelihood of Villa retaining any of these crucial loan players without promotion is minuscule, and without those players, Villa are a mid-table Championship club as they proved in the first half of the season.
Failure to get promoted just isn’t an option for Villa.