Early exit from the Capital One Cup aside, Villa's start to the year has given reason for cautious optimism. Yes, the lack of goals has been both frustrating and familiar, but the defense has looked tremendously improved through the first two league games and against Newcastle, Villa actually looked like the home team in putting together one of their more composed displays in recent memory. But part of the reason those games felt encouraging is down to expectation; Villa weren't expected to gain a point against Stoke, and Newcastle is a legitimate contender for European football.
That's not the case with Hull City , a club expected to compete directly with Villa in the bottom quarter (or thereabouts) of the table. Whether or not that's a reasonable assessment of their relative quality remains to be seen, but as it stands this is a team Villa could do well to separate themselves from, and those were match-ups that gave Villa great deal of trouble last season. That doesn't apply to Hull City directly; Villa were arguably the better side in their first encounter at the KC Stadium, dominating possession and managing 18 shots on the day. In the return fixture Villa were rampant, taking a lead in the first minute and riding an Andreas Weimann brace to a 3-1 win that all but guaranteed Villa's safety.
But there's not much about Hull City that makes them a unique case among the Premier League's also-rans, and though there was likely a pretty significant element of bad luck involved in Villa's record against the lower-table sides last season, that was offset by a significant element of good luck in beating teams such as Arsenal and Manchester City. In short, Villa can't count on shock wins over the Premier League's elite this season, and in order to demonstrate legitimate progress-as well as keep the fans at a manageable state of open revolt-they'll need to do far better against sides of Hull's caliber than they have in the recent past.
So clearly, the result is important. Hull isn't a club that should, in a world that makes logical sense, pose any threat to Villa. There's a great deal to like about Hull, for a lot of reasons-primarily Northern Soul, but the football club is pretty fun as well-but they don't enjoy anywhere near the structural advantages that Villa do, and the fact that it's even close says a lot about how badly things have gone for Villa over the past half-decade or so. But none of that can really be changed at this point, and the reality is that this is a club which Villa need to outperform in order to stay comfortable this season.
But in terms of prognostication, the process is almost every bit as important as what the final scoreline ends up being. If Villa manage to snag three points while reverting back to their incapable-of-keeping-possession ways, that certainly wouldn't be a bad thing in the least. But it would be far, far more encouraging to see a performance reminiscent of last Saturday's in which Villa deliver on some of the promise shown that didn't quite come off against Newcastle. Eking out a win against Hull would be a fine result, but in order to restore some of the lost confidence from the Leyton Orient result, Villa need something a bit more special. Whether or not that's a likely expectation against a tricky Hull side is almost irrelevant from Villa's perspective; reason has long been cast aside by the Claret and Blue faithful, and this far along into yet another retooling, it's hard to blame them.