Aston Villa fans can finally breathe. The Villans' convincing 3-1 win over Hull City on Saturday ended their six-match run without a victory and has alleviated some of the doubt that has swirled over the Birmingham club in recent months.
While the future of the team's ownership and management situations remains to be determined, the Villa faithful now know that they will be watching their team play top-flight football for a 26th consecutive season.
Manager Paul Lambert, as well as the Villa supporters, will be eagerly anticipating an upcoming statement by owner Randy Lerner after the team's final match on Sunday, as reported by The Guardian's Stuart James:
I respect the chairman's statement and what he is going to say. It will bring clarity and it will not be a problem, whatever way he wants to play it himself. I will respect his decision, no problem with that whatsoever. Randy is a really top guy and I've said before, it is his club.
Lambert's tenure as manager has been defined by his commitment to young, unproven players. Although this policy has not been fully successful, the core of the manager's approach was admirable and forward-thinking, and Lambert should fully commit to it for the team's final pair of matches.
With two games left on the season, Lambert can best service the club—as well as give himself the best chance to retain his job—by giving opportunities to less experienced members of the team.
The two upcoming games provide ample opportunity to give many of Villa's fringe and young players chances on the pitch. Wednesday's match against title-chasers Manchester City is a particularly intriguing situation.
Liverpool's shocking draw with Crystal Palace has left City in prime position to win their second title in three years. All eyes will be on the Etihad Stadium, where Villa will play a crucial role in determining this season's champion.
Many will argue—and fairly so—that Villa have an obligation to put forward their best team on Wednesday in order to give themselves the best chance to earn all three points.
While Villa should undoubtedly field a competitive team and play to win, there is very little to be gained by running out all of the first-team regulars. Villa's more experienced and proven players, such as Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and Karim El Ahmadi, will benefit little from playing in the remaining matches.
Instead, giving match time to Villa's young prospects and evaluating Villa's less used players will pay greater dividends in the long run. Jordan Bowery's impact performance against Hull on Saturday shows the possible benefits of this approach.
Having hardly featured in his two years at Villa Park, Bowery was called upon early against Hull due to an injury to Agbonlahor. The young forward took his chance with aplomb, providing an energetic display in which he assisted Villa's third goal and eagerly tested the opposing keeper on numerous occasions.
Before the match, it seemed unlikely that Bowery had a future at the club. He may not be the next Christian Benteke, but a spirited performance later, and Bowery has many observers thinking again. His success should inspire Lambert to give other overlooked players a shot to prove themselves.
Products of the Villa youth system, Callum Robinson and Jack Grealish are rising talents with bright futures who would greatly benefit from an opportunity to play against the likes of Manchester City or Tottenham.
Robinson's virtues have been extolled by many of his coaches, and the young striker has been rewarded with a few cameo appearances in the league as a substitute. An opportunity to play from the start would greatly help Robinson continue to adjust to the pace of the Premier League.
Grealish, who starred this season on loan at Notts County, is arguably Villa's brightest prospect at just 18 years old. Set to return from his loan for Villa's final fixtures, giving the young Irishman a first-team debut would delight the fans and give Grealish invaluable experience at the highest level.
Back to villa now tomorrow untill the end of the season. Let's hope we can finish the season of on a high 😃👏— Jack Grealish (@JackGrealish1) May 5, 2014
In addition, the remaining fixtures are a brief, but useful opportunity for Villa's less favoured players to show that they have been underestimated and that they may have a future at the club, as Bowery proved to many against Hull.
Players such as Joe Bennett, Antonio Luna, Yacouba Sylla and Aleksandar Tonev have found themselves on the fringes after failing to perform on the pitch. These players have been out of the first-team picture for a reason, but giving them a chance to redeem themselves can only help the club in the long run.
All of these players have serious flaws, but they are nearly as young and only slightly more experienced than players such as Robinson and Grealish. A head-turning display by just one of these transfer flops would be a positive outcome from the largely meaningless matches left to play.
It may not be what Liverpool fans want to hear, but it is in Aston Villa and Paul Lambert's best interests to give youth a chance during the final week of the 2013-14 Premier League season.