Aston Villa have somehow only played nine league matches. It feels more like an eternity of purgatorial matches where Villa somehow escapes the first half tied or with a one goal lead only to relinquish the points late leaving fans feeling like sat-on whoopie cushions. League play is a sharp contrast from the cup matches we've seen (well, technically listened to or followed on the web) which have been wholly entertaining and successful if not the cause of a few cases of atrial fibrillation.
A couple of weeks ago we talked about the importance of the matches against Fulham and Norwich. It was always going to be difficult to snag three points in London but the draw was there for the taking and then stolen by a late Chris Baird goal. The Norwich game was an exercise akin to slamming one's hand in a car door for ninety minutes. Nothing resembling entertainment was derived from the match and neither were a crucial three points which were all but lost when Joe Bennett forgot he was on a yellow and decided to play doctor with another Bennett (Elliott).
And so Villa garnered one point from those two once-critical matches and now they face what could be a long, painful month of November unless Paul Lambert can summon the giant-killing squad that managed to take out Manchester City in the Capital One Cup.
First up is Sunderland, a fixture which takes on extra meaning now that Martin O'Neill is their manager. The back and forth with fans of the northeastern club about which club was "bigger" after the sale of Darren Bent was as excruciating as it was pointless. Both teams have one league win at this point and both should be embarrassed. It's a lot to expect of Villa to hit the road and get three points but given what they must face, a draw at minimum is vital.
That's because they must face Manchester United at home, Manchester City at the Etihad, and Arsenal back at Villa Park. Even the most optimistic of fans would say it's going to be extremely difficult to win any of those three matches. Considering that "Trust In Lambert" Twitter feeds are already popping up, it's safe to say the honeymoon is over. November will try everyone's patience unless Villa manages to mix at least one or two inspiring performances in.
Making things all the more difficult is that the club's defenders have been ravaged with injuries. Chris Herd, Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark and Richard Dunne are all in varied degrees of pain. It seems like Chris Herd is playing through that which ails him but even at full strength the Villa defense is already a thin group. Joe Bennett and Karim El Ahmadi will also be suspended for the Sunderland match.
I consider myself a patient fan and my belief that Paul Lambert is the right man for this club will not change no matter what happens over the next four matches. That said, with Villa sitting perilously close to the drop zone they will more than likely find themselves in the bottom three after November should they not find a way to grab some points. We all know that while the majority of Villa fans aren't expecting a spot in Europe, an extended relegation battle will raise bile in all of us.
I think Aston Villa are still searching for their identity and I know that January will see more changes to the squad both in and out. Are Aston Villa better than the QPRs, Readings and Southamptons of the world? Right now it's hard to say that they are. Batten down the hatches, folks. November will test our mettle as fans.