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Aston Villa face yet another fork-in-the-road moment against Cardiff City

So far this season when faced with the possibility of sliding back into uncertainty, Aston Villa have responded and delivered a timely result. They'll face yet another such challenge at Cardiff City Stadium this evening.

Chris Brunskill

So fa this season, seemingly every time Aston Villa have the opportunity to take a significant step towards safety and demonstrable progress, they fall flat on their faces. Likewise, every time it appears as though they're in real danger of sliding into real danger, they manage to come up with a huge result in order to relieve some of the pressure. It's the kind of back-and-forth that's infuriating for fans; there's enough promise shown to make it look as though a corner has been turned, only for the same frustrating shortcomings to reappear and bring old, familiar doubts back to the surface.

The worst part about the downward slides is that they feel significantly more real than the high points, as though the team has been found out and the return of the fight for survival is imminent. The wins are nice, but the losses feel more comfortable in a perverse sort of fashion; there's a sense of permanence that accompanies them. Are those feelings rational? Probably not. There are measurable, quantifiable things one can point to that show improvement in this year's Villa team, tangible things that make a compelling case that their a better side than those below them. But they're not a good side, so it's hard to put much faith in their ability to avoid yet another down-to-the-wire finish.

So far though, Villa's been able to do just enough to keep themselves out of the mess at the bottom of the table, and this is the point in the cycle at which they have thus far managed to come up with a win and keep the bottom three at slightly more than an arm's reach. And given the relative quality of the two sides-as well as the fact that Cardiff are a rare club that Aston Villa have actually managed to beat at home-it's certainly reasonable to believe or even to expect that they'll manage to do so yet again. This isn't a good Villa team, but it's a very bad Cardiff team, and one would be hard pressed to find a great many people that expect them to survive the season at this point.

But with Villa, it's just incredibly difficult to feel confident. That's probably not fair to the current team, who have genuinely shown themselves to be resilient and capable of legitimate quality and promise. It's probably not fair to Paul Lambert either, who is clearly carrying with him the weight of the failings of some of his predecessors. But conditioning is a powerful thing. Villa fans are used to being disappointed, and until the consistent emotion is something different, it's going to stay that way. It's not hopelessness, at least for those that are willing to look at the bigger picture, but it's certainly a kind of numbness. That's not the worst thing, and it can even be tolerable. But only to a certain point.