Steve Bruce: Aston Villa boss sees April as the 'defining month' in Championship race
Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce says their Championship promotion hopes depend on how they get through a busy April.
Following Tuesday's surprise home defeat by a much-improved QPR, Villa now trail second-placed Cardiff City by seven points - and are 10 behind leaders Wolves with nine games left.
But after Saturday's game at Bolton and the Easter Saturday trip to Hull, six of those fixtures are in April.
"For me, April is always the defining month," Bruce told BBC WM.
"The stupid international weekend doesn't help. But, after that, we've got six games. And we have that big weekend after Easter. Let's see where are then."
If Villa win at relegation-threatened Bolton in their televised 17:30 GMT game, they would close the gap to four points on Neil Warnock's Cardiff, who face a tough away test at fifth-placed Derby on Sunday.
But early season pacesetters Cardiff are back on a roll, having now won seven games on the trot - and are looking ahead, rather than behind them, in the hope of dislodging long-time leaders Wolves at the top.
"We can't look to other clubs to do us to do us a favour," admits Bruce. "The result has dented us but we move forward, we recover and we go again. It was always going to be hard but there's still a long way to go."
The key six days?
- Friday 6 April Cardiff v Wolves
- Saturday 7 April Norwich v Villa
- Tuesday 10 April Villa v Cardiff
- Wednesday 11 April Wolves v Derby
'You're never too old to learn'
Villa's momentum after three straight victories, in which they scored 11 goals, was halted by a hard-working young QPR side.
And Bruce admitted that, in hindsight, he should have freshened his team up following last Saturday's stunning 4-1 win at home to Wolves.
"I blame myself," he said. "I always thought it might be difficult to keep the bandwagon rolling. Experience told me a third game in a week was too much. But you're never too old to learn.
"It was one of those awful evenings, a struggle all night. But that's the big thing about this division. You can get upsets like we've had, with no disrespect to QPR. That's what the Championship is. If you're not ready and you're not at it, any team can beat you."
Bruce lost left-back Neil Taylor with a sore groin, while "a few more have strains", but on the plus side, Villa do have last season's top scorer Jonathan Kodjia back in training.
With a fortnight's break after the Bolton game before they go to Bruce's old club Hull City, he may now figure sooner rather than later in the run-in.
But Kodjia did not complete a full 90 minutes for Villa in the eight matches he played before aggravating his ankle injury in late October, in which time he scored just once.