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Saturday, 22 February 2014

Aston Villa: Can Villa replicate last season's strong finish?

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Villa have enjoyed another extended break thanks to their lack of cup action, but now it’s back to business.

It’ll be very interesting to see how Villa approach their next two games because now is the time to start picking up points. The team are four points better off now than they were this time last year – and last season was far more worrying up to this point than it has been so far this campaign – but if we don’t starting putting a few wins together now we are really going to be trouble.

Villa are currently 12th in the league, whereas this time last year they had just jumped from second-bottom to 17thThey then lost their next two games to Arsenal and Manchester City and it was a very nervous time, but the side never really looked back from that point on.

Somehow the team pulled together, attacked with confidence and beat Reading, QPR, Stoke City, Sunderland and Norwich, drawing with Fulham and Wigan, only losing to Liverpool, Chelsea and Man United. If you consider how a club the size of Villa should be performing, you would expect them to win, draw and perhaps lose those games.

What made it more impressive, however, was they did it under immense pressure.

The wins came against clubs who were at least battling with relegation, or in the cases of Reading and QPR, the clubs that eventually went down.

Villa celebrate v NorwichThree of those five wins were away from home – in fact, in Villa’s last five away games they only lost once and dropped just seven out of a possible 15 points from their final five games away from Villa Park.

Under manager Paul Lambert Villa’s home form has been shocking but out of their final five matches at Villa Park they won two, lost two and drew one.

I think most Villa fans would bite your hand off if you offered them that now. 

The overall consequence of that was Villa jumped from 24 points after 28 games to 41 points after 38 games – so that’s 17 points from 10 games.

The problem is can we repeat those performances again this time round?

Twenty-six games have been played so far, which means there are only 12 left – that may seem strange but the season really has gone that quickly.

Villa travel to Newcastle on Sunday and if recent history is anything to go by a point would be a good result.

Villa’s results over the last few years have been a 2-1 defeat at home earlier this season, and a 2-1 defeat and 1-1 draw during the 2012-13 and 2011-12 season.

We did pick up 1-0 win during the 2010-11 season but only after being spanked 6-0 at St James’ Park.

The home side have been in a bit of slump themselves in recent weeks but they are still 11 points ahead and look a far more organised side on their day. But Villa are renowned for being a good counter-attacking team so long as Lambert decides to play to their strengths, which has to be three upfront, we’ve got a fighting chance.

Norwich at home the following week could and should be three points but rather than going over the same stuff about how poor Villa are at home, anything could happen in that game.

Even if the worst possible scenario were to happen and Villa lost those two games, Lambert’s men would still be four points better off than there were this time last year.

But following that would be Chelsea, Stoke, Fulham, Southampton and Hull at home, with trips to Man United, Crystal Palace, Swansea, Spurs and the postponed game with Man City at some point.

Looking at those fixtures you’d hope Villa would pick up enough points at home to reach safety – but knowing how they play at home you also wouldn’t bank on any.

With how tight the league is from 10th placed Swansea on 28 points – the same as Villa – down to bottom placed Fulham on 20 points, there are going to be more six-pointers from here on than I can remember in a long time.

Villa have thrown up some huge surprises this season in between some truly woeful performances so we can, and will, keep the faith until the bitter-end.

We just need to hope Lambert can inspire his not-so-young guns again this campaign and then finally start building a squad over the summer that will not be faced with a relegation battle for the fifth consecutive season.

Article by James Fisher

Calling all Villa fans: Are you confident of beating the drop? How vital is it to win the next two home games? What can Villa do to improve their wretched home form? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Colin Illingworth



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