|Benteke’s red card proved costly against Tottenham|
After a good start to the season, a dreadful run of defeats has put Aston Villa firmly in relegation trouble and Andy Brassell is struggling to see any positive signs for Paul Lambert’s men…
When this column took an overall look at the Premier League’s relegation picture four weeks ago – and its considerable openness – Aston Villa didn’t even get a mention after their promising start to the campaign.
To say that appears to be an oversight would be something of an understatement, with Sunday afternoon’s desperate late defeat at home to Tottenham plunging Paul Lambert’s men into a very bad place indeed.
Villa are in freefall, and the division’s worst side on form, after a run of six straight defeats. You’ve heard all the stats, all of which make grim listening for those of a Villan persuasion; before Andi Weimann’s goal against Spurs, Cristiano Ronaldo had scored 20 goals since Villa’s last, netted by Gabriel Agbonlahor to win the match at Liverpool in September.
Villa had not garnered a single point since Lambert’s contract extension to 2018 was inked shortly after that game and going into the match on Sunday, the Midlanders had scored just 90 times in their previous 85 games under the former Wycombe boss.
All is not lost yet, of course. Even after such a disastrous recent trot – and Sunderland’s Monday night win at Crystal Palace – they are still only fifth from bottom.
Yet they are starting to become firmly entrenched in punters’ thinking in terms of the drop, and they are now a fully paid-up member of the rotten bottom third of the table that we mentioned before.
Villa are currently sixth-favourites to go down (more or less in alignment with where they are in the actual table), available at 4.6 on the Exchange.
More concerning, perhaps, is the fact that both West Bromwich Albion (5.2) and Hull (6.0) are at longer odds to go as things stand. Steve Bruce’s innovative and daring transfer window could yet yield results – and only a couple of late goals have prevented the Tigers from being further up the table – but Alan Irvine’s side have one of the weakest squads in the division, so seeing them sail past will give Villans the shivers.
Player-for-player, one would almost certainly gamble on Villa having the resources to get out of any scrapes. A World Cup semi-finalist in Ron Vlaar and a very capable centre-forward in Christian Benteke are not only great assets, but one that showed the nerve to come out of a relegation battle on top, as they did most notably in their first season together at the club in 2012-13.
Yet reiterating this is to grasp the very essence of Villa’s problems. How far have they moved on from that point? Not far at all, it seems.
The fans have already seen the goal drought model before, when Chelsea, Tottenham and Wigan put a shared 15 goals past Lambert’s side without reply in a traumatic week over Christmas and New Year in that 12-13 season. They came through in a strong end to the campaign to survive, but lessons have not been learned.
This season started with trepidation, with the club on the market and owner Randy Lerner thus not too keen on splashing further cash. The focus is increasingly on Lambert, however. What is at his disposal is not so little as to justify the lack of personality displayed in recent weeks. Benteke’s red card has been the focus in the wake of the Spurs loss, but by that point Villa should have already taken it upon themselves to build on Weimann’s goal and put a poor visiting side out of sight. That they didn’t says a lot.
Villa are by no means bankers for relegation, but the lack of genuine change while the club remains up for sale means that will probably be hovering, at least, for the duration.