Express & Star

Analysis: Dare to dream as Aston Villa edge closer to the promised land

Unai Emery might be telling supporters to keep dreaming but the prospect of Villa playing Champions League football next season is becoming more of a reality with each passing week.

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Aston Villa's Douglas Luiz celebrates

After Saturday’s 4-2 win over Nottingham Forest, they now hold a five-point cushion inside the Premier League’s top four, while their advantage over sixth-placed Manchester United is back to eight after the latter’s New Year charge was halted by a shock home defeat to Fulham.

Further twists are inevitable and not all of them will be in Villa’s favour, yet with just 12 matches remaining they are undoubtedly right in the race.

No matter how much Emery might continue to play down their chances in public, the head coach, his players and fans are increasingly starting to believe. The message urging the latter to “keep dreaming” was written by the Spaniard in the programme, before his team delivered a performance to ensure they will do precisely that.

Saturday’s win felt confirmation Villa are over the blip which briefly sparked fears their campaign might be fizzling out. It was the first time since December they have recorded back-to-back league victories and they have now won three of their last four league matches, playing decently in each. They have also scored 12 goals over that run, with an attack which briefly went off the boil in January sizzling once more. This win was reminiscent of many at home during the first half of the season with Villa, a mid-match wobble aside, pushing past lower table opposition with relative ease.