Aston Villa ring in the New Year with Sunderland clash; excitement at unprecedented levels

Laurence Griffiths

Aston Villa travel to face Sunderland in a game that holds about as much promise for excitement as an accounting textbook.

Another year is in the books, and as has been something of a recurring theme as of late, it wasn't an especially good one for Aston Villa. January was arguably the lowest point of what was a pretty miserable 2012-13 season, with Villa being knocked out of both cup competitions by lower-league opposition and finishing the month in the relegation zone. An uptick in form in the early spring saw Villa to safety and the season ended on something of a high note, with the positive feelings carrying over into the new campaign thanks to a promising start. But these last few months it's been back to misery, and Villa will begin 2014 just 6 points above today's opponent, last-placed Sunderland.

As miserable as the past year was for Villa, 2014 was arguably even rougher for the Black Cats; the Martin O'Neill experiment did not go especially well to say the least, and the appointment of noted lunatic Paolo Di Canio was just barely enough to keep the club in the Premier League. The Wearsiders were active in the summer and looked poised to put the worst behind them, but thanks to a disastrous start Di Canio was sacked in late September and replaced first by caretaker Kevin Ball and eventually on a permanent basis by Gus Poyet. The club's first win didn't come until October 27th, and they've spent 8 of 15 weeks dead last in the league table.

Predictably, it appears as though Poyet's side is finally beginning to turn things around right as they get set to host Villa. They're still a very long ways away from being a good team, but they've gone four in a row without losing an are just two weeks removed from handing Everton their first home loss of the season. Sunderland's had problems everywhere, but in recent weeks it's been the attack that's been the most glaring issue; Poyet's side has arguably deserved three points from each of their past four games, but wastefulness in front of goal has become the theme rather than what looks to be a significantly improved defense.

Sound familiar? It should! Thanks to a much better start for the year Villa things don't look nearly as bad, but in many ways there are some pretty striking similarities between the two clubs in terms of their recent results. Why Villa's had these struggles is a topic that' been covered here and elsewhere in quite a bit of depth, but what does it mean in terms of the New Year's Day festivities? Well, unless someone surprises us, it means that we're likely in for a tremendously boring couple of hours. Here's to hoping everyone got their fill of excitement last night.

These sides last met just one month ago, and it wouldn't be surprising if you've completely forgotten about it; the first half was moderately watchable-if still pretty bad-but the second was quite possibly the most pointless 45 minutes of all of 2013 (and not just in terms of football.) It's reasonable to expect today's affair to be somewhat more entertaining, but that's about the same as saying a routine dental exam is more enjoyable than a root canal. Perhaps we're in for a treat and this is the beginning of a turn towards the light for Villa. There's always hope.

I doubt anyone is going to be holding their breath though, and I certainly don't blame them. On the plus side, many of us will probably have hangovers so severe that we can't deal with too much excitement. In that case, this is probably the game to watch.

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