Aston Villa boss Dean Smith knows the forthcoming run of fixtures could be pivotal to his side’s Championship play-off hopes.
Villa, ninth in the table and four points shy of a top-six spot, host title-chasing Sheffield United on Friday night before a trip to Brentford and a home derby with promotion hopefuls West Brom next week.
It represents an important nine days for Smith’s team, who have won only two of their last 10 league games, but he is optimistic about reviving Villa’s campaign.
“It’s a test but that is what these games in the Championship are all about, you want to be tested,” Smith told the club’s official website.
“We’ve got a three-game week coming up beginning with Sheffield United and then my old club Brentford and then a local derby against the Baggies on the Saturday.
“They are tough games but these games are opportunities. If we can put in three good performances and get a good points haul then the world looks a different place.”
Smith is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task on Friday night, but he believes there will also be pressure on the Blades, who would go top of the table with victory at Villa Park.
“I’m excited about the games coming up but we look no further than Sheffield United,” said Smith.
“It will be a tough game, they’re a good team with some really good players. Billy Sharp may be in the latter stages of his career but he is head-to-head with Tammy (Abraham) in the goalscoring charts.
“They are a team who know what they are doing and they are organised. But they need a win as well to get back in the top two and we need a win to stay in touch with the play-offs, so it should be a good game.”
Blades boss Chris Wilder has attempted to ease the pressure on his team by insisting they are under no pressure or expectation to get promoted to the Premier League – unlike some clubs.
Wilder believes there will be many more twists and turns before the end of the season.
“You have to look at it the right way, just before Christmas we were well off it,” he told the club’s website. “We’ve got everything to play for but there isn’t a gun to our head to get promoted.
“There are going to be twists and turns, I still don’t think anyone will run away with it. There are a lot of positive teams at the top, a few who have to get up really.
“It’s difficult for people to predict results in this division, so you have to take care of your own business really. I’d be absolutely delighted to get a positive result at Villa Park.”