The 19th-placed Reds, who face a reunion with revered former captain Conor Hourihane at Villa Park today, may have plenty of work still to do to secure their Championship status, but they are busy laying some solid foundations.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side head to the Midlands on the back of a four-match unbeaten Championship sequence, while also managing to keep the back door shut of late after amassing four clean sheets in their last six league fixtures.
The growing partnership in the middle of the defence between Liam Lindsay and Ethan Pinnock, impressive in last weekend’s shut-out of runaway leaders Wolves, may be correctly cited as a major reason for that.
But goalkeeper Adam Davies feels that improved communication across the backline is also playing its part.
Davies, part of a back five who prevented Wolves’ impressive attacking triumvirate from mustering a shot on target in the draw at Oakwell seven days ago, said: “Definitely in the defensive side, the communication helps in doing less running and keeping each other in the right positions.
“The vocal side has improved and I think you can see that on the pitch over the past seven or eight games.
“It also makes that big difference if you can get that settled backline and you get to know each other a lot better.
“With four clean sheets in the past six games and a couple of good results, we can take a bit of confidence from that and keep growing.”
The back four may look increasingly settled, but there is further disruption in central midfield today, with loanee Gary Gardner ineligible against his parent club.
With Joe Williams also suspended, head coach Heckingbottom faces a selection poser in the middle of the park where he is without his two major enforcers.
Heckingbottom, whose Reds’ side claimed a fine 3-1 win at Villa last February, said: “I was really pleased for Gary last week. It is the role Joe has done ever so well and where we also used Jared Bird at the start of the season.
“Joe has been really important for us and it is good that Gards has done that role as well. But both will be missing for Saturday.
“We have just 16 players available, so it will be a great opportunity for some lads.”