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Aston Villa’s promotion hopes crushed, claims Championship rival

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Aston Villa’s hopes of finishing in the automatic promotion places crashed against the rocks with consecutive defeats against Queens Park Rangers and Bolton Wanderers, with no-one else but Steve Bruce to blame.

Those were the combative words of Kevin Phillips, an assistant coach at Derby County in his weekly column for the Express & Star.

A legendary Premier League marksman, Phillips spent the latter years of his playing days in the Championship with Blackpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester City. A member of the Foxes side which won the division that year, Phillips knows the toll the 46-game campaign takes on the players.

Phillips claimed that “he should have changed two or three players in the midweek fixture against QPR,” highlighting age as the issue. “It’s not a young squad he’s got there, and he probably should have freshened it up.”

It’s a problem that Derby are familiar with, and Phillips declared hindsight as 20/20 vision. “A lot of these things become apparent after the event.”

There is a second reason, and it’s one that Bruce and his coaches not should have been aware of but stamping out: complacency.

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It’s easily done, according to the former striker who made 660 career appearances, including 27 for Aston Villa.

“After the big win over Wolves you’ve got QPR and Bolton next up, two teams who’ve not done well this season,” he said. “You look at it and think ‘we should just turn up and we’ll beat them.”

Villa found out the hard way that focus is what divides the champions from the also-rans.

Those two defeats combined with Wolves and Cardiff City winning signalled the end of Villa’s dream of a top-two finish.

“At the end of it all they’ve maybe ruined their chances of getting the second spot,” declared Phillips.

He was full of praise for Nuno Espirito Santo’s Molineux squad.

“As for Wolves, well they’ve been outstanding all season. Yes, they had a blip, but their quality has shone through again.”

Derby’s own experience mirrors that of Aston Villa’s. The Rams are out of contention for the top two and busy looking over their shoulders at Sheffield United, Preston North End and Bristol City who are all eyeing their play-off place.

The automatic promotion places may be all but settled but there are plenty of twists and turns remaining in the playoff chase.

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