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Villa give hope, and then punch us all in the gut in loss to Stoke

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It all started so hopefully.

The first half was a lot like what we saw in the second half against Leicester City last weekend: attack, attack, attack. And my god if it wasn't refreshing. Villa had the ball in the Stoke City box within the first five minutes, and they never let up from there. The crowning moment came on a 20th-minute Scott Sinclair goal. The build-up play began with a Carles Gil corner that was sent back towards him. He calmly collected, sent it to the other side, and Sinclair battled with the Stoke defense a bit. Fabian Delph got the ball on the left edge of the box and sent it in to Sinclair, who had run towards the goal and met it with a precise, powerful header.

The takeaway from this was the tenacity. The initial attempt didn't work, so Villa kept trying. Probing in the box is something we almost never saw under Paul Lambert, and it's something we've seen now multiple times since Sherwood has talked to (and led) the team. It all came a bit undone thanks to some poor defending in the 45th minute that allowed Mame Diouf to score from a Stephen Ireland cross. But Villa almost instantly attacked after the restart and didn't crumble at all.

It appears now that it's because they decided to wait until the second half to crumble. While it wasn't exactly a full reversion to Paul Lambert style football, the free-flowing team we saw in the first half was nowhere to be seen in the second. The biggest problem remained from Lambert's time, though: strikers looked totally disinterested. Christian Benteke struggled to get involved. Gabby Agbonlahor is simply atrocious at this point. And Andi Weimann, who came on for Gil (who had his worst day as a Villan yet), was anonymous.

Not that it would have mattered for much, but Villa looked as if they could still preserve a draw from a bad day. But then, in stoppage time, Ron Vlaar made perhaps the dumbest tackle we've seen all season. With Stoke breaking into the Villa box, rather than trying to muscle his way in, Vlaar slid at the feet of the attacker and got the most obvious penalty of all time. It was converted easily, and just like that a match that had started so well became a loss.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about Vlaar tackle later, but he's an idiot. He might be ever so slightly better than Jores Okore, but no so much so that we need him. After that useless tackle I wouldn't mind seeing him benched for the rest of the season.

We're not doomed, but we might be doomed. Thanks to Chelsea drawing Burnley Villa have now dropped to 19th. There are still enough winnable matches to save this club, but there have been plenty of winnable matches in the past three months, too. The switch to Sherwood may have come too late, and things have to change now. We've moved past the point of useful draws into the land of win or die trying.

Let's hope it's not the latter.