Many clichés get regularly used in the football world, with one of the most common being ‘the next few games will define their season’. But the thing with clichés is that they are overused phrases for a reason and I think that Aston Villa fans will be thinking exactly that ahead of a crucial few weeks for the club.
Even without a 3-1 Capital One Cup semi-final deficit to turn around against Bradford City in midweek – and the knock-on effect of failing to do so bound to be immeasurably negative – the schedule for Villa over the coming months is of vital importance and the next two fixtures do indeed look like they are going to shape the rest of the campaign for Paul Lambert’s relegation zone dwellers.
Alongside difficult matches away at Everton, Arsenal and at home to champions Manchester City, Lambert’s struggling side face West Ham United at Villa Park, but their next two games – at home to Newcastle United and before that, a short trip to the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion on Saturday – could hardly be bigger matches at this stage of the season.
I don’t think there is anybody in football under the illusion that Villa are in anything other than a desperate dogfight for Premier League survival.
Their cup exploits (they also face Millwall in the FA Cup fourth round) are largely irrelevant; as their arch-enemies Birmingham City found out, winning a cup isn’t much use if you follow it by dropping into the Championship.
Villa’s fall from grace seemed unthinkable when Martin O’Neill secured a third consecutive top-six finish in 2010, but after the Northern Irishman threw his toys out of the pram upon being told by Randy Lerner the money was running out, the Villans have been in free-fall.
Neither Gerard Houllier nor Alex McLeish could do anything to halt the decline and now Lambert is struggling to keep the club afloat.
They go to the Hawthorns in the bottom three and in wretched form, but they will be encouraged that West Brom have been doing just as badly of late.
A few weeks ago you would have had to be all over the 13/20 on a home win, but I am not so sure about the Baggies at the minute and I think a combination of the 14/5 on the draw and 4/1 on an away win is my play.
Villa are 6/5 to avoid defeat and I am going to go for that purely because I don’t want to back either side at the moment and that therefore represents the value.
Steve Clarke’s men have gone right off the boil after a great start and the 1-0 home reverse to Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup in midweek was their fourth defeat in the last five, with the other game in that sequence the draw with QPR in the original tie.
Clarke is in the most difficult period of his short tenure at Albion and even if there was always a sense that they were overachieving, their form makes the Baggies far too short to back, even against Villa.
West Brom have won just one of the last five home games, losing to Stoke City, Fulham and QPR, and that is not the kind of run of results you expect to see from a 13/20 shot.
Villa are obviously in no form themselves, winning just one of the seven games since their 3-1 victory at Liverpool last month, and even that was against Championship side Ipswich Town in the FA Cup.
But they do have a good record against West Brom, losing just two of the 13 meetings in the Premier League era, and with doubts about both teams I think an odds-against shout about Villa not losing is decent enough.
Top bet: Aston Villa to avoid defeat @ 6/5