This afternoon, Aston Villa will face Cardiff City in the kind of match that is likely going to define their season. If you read this blog with any regularity you're likely tired of hearing this by now, but it's an important point; playing well in a losing effort against the big sides is nice, but unless you can display that same quality against lesser teams it's ultimately meaningless. And to this point, Villa's results against teams of similar stature haven't been especially encouraging.
That's doubly true for games at Villa Park, and that's not a new issue. Since the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Villa is 10-12-21 at home, compared to 10-18-15 away. Looking at just the seasons in which Paul Lambert has been in charge, things look even worse; 6-5-13 at Villa Park, 7-8-9 elsewhere. If Villa could perform at home the way you'd expect based on their results away, this would actually be a pretty respectable team, but to this point they've been unable to do that. And until they do, it's going to be difficult to take the next step forward.
Cardiff should come into this game flying high thanks to last weekend's 1-0 win over rivals Swansea City, and in general their season has mirrored Villa's pretty closely. An early season win over one of the league's elites-in this case Manchester City-and strong performances against some of the other top sides hasn't translated into wider success. There's been some encouraging play and reason optimism, but in the end this is a team Villa should be capable of beating at home. Unfortunately that's been true of a lot of teams in the recent past, and it just hasn't turned out that way all that often.
This is the beginning of a run of very winnable games for Villa, with only Southampton and United looking to be significantly favored between now and the end of December. It's important to start it off on the right foot. This season started with so much promise, and it's frustrating to see that Villa took that positive momentum and turned it into two points from their last four games. If this team is going to take a step forward this season, these are games they need to be winning.