It's not a good time to be an Aston Villa supporter right now. Especially if you happen to be an Irish Aston Villa fan. Luckily I'm not, but it doesn't really make me feel any better about this Saturday's game, against Stoke City. But before we look at that, we first go back to the last time the sides met. Yes, it's this week's Don't look back in anger.
The last time we met
The last time Aston Villa played Stoke was in Mid-February of this year. I left my flat to catch a train when Aston Villa were 1-0 up. By the time I got on the train, Villa had lost 2-1. Yes, Villa made a bright start and threw it all away, sounds all too familiar right? *Cough* Leicester City match *cough*.
The game started oh so well for Villa, with Scott Sinclair heading home after a Fabian Delph cross in the 20th minute. At the time, Villa were sitting in 18th place in the table, so Sinclair's goal brought about a strange kind of feeling. Hope. Then Mame Biram Diouf equalised just before half time and that evaporated. Okay, so a point wouldn't be the worst thing in the world right? Probably not, but Ron Vlaar decided to be reckless and ruined all that. 91 minutes in, the former captain decided to bring down Victor Moses in the box, conceding the penalty and getting himself sent off in the process. Moses converted the penalty and Villa dropped down to 19th place. Dark days indeed.
Obviously, Villa ended up saving themselves from relegation, but on this day they seemed doomed to drop. Sinclair's goal aside, there were no real positives to be found for Villa, a bitter result to take, especially given that they were victorious in the reverse fixture early in the season, winning 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium. As for Stoke, they ended the season in a solid 9th, despite playing some truly inconsistent football. They followed a 2-0 loss to Swansea with a 3-0 win over Tottenham, and managed to hammer Liverpool 6-1 on the final day of the season, despite drawing 0-0 with Burnley the week before. It's a funny old game.
First match, last match
The Stoke City game was Tim Sherwood's first as Aston Villa manager (although he gave the team talk against Leicester City, Scott Marshall was technically in charge). If things don't go well against Stoke this time around, it could be his last match as manager.
Now, just to be clear, I'm not advocating that Tim Sherwood should be sacked, though I'm thoroughly unconvinced by him as manager. But if he were to be sacked, there would be no better time than now, especially if the club loses to Stoke. With the international break coming up after this game, the club would have time to appoint a new manager, with time to carefully select the right person for the job. Was Tim Sherwood a rushed appointment? Maybe, but if Tim does go, the club simply cannot afford to hire the wrong man, because Aston Villa's status as a Premier League club is at stake. So no pressure then!
Stoke City this season
What have Aston Villa and Stoke have in common this season? Both teams have had pretty poor starts to the season, and both have thrown away two goal leads against Leicester City. Saying that, Stoke held on for a draw against Leicester, whilst Villa bottled it, so there is that.
Stoke sit just one place above Villa in the table, but they have three draws to go along with their one win, giving them two more points than Villa. Don't be mistaken though, Stoke are a tough side to beat, and Villa will probably struggle to break them down. Against West Brom, Stoke played with NINE men for OVER AN HOUR, and still only lost 1-0. Now, I hate to be pessimistic, but I just don't see Villa winning this one. Charlie Adam and Ibrahim Afellay are available again for selection following suspension, and they, along with Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan give Stoke a real offensive danger. Defensively, Stoke are solid but unspectacular. All in all, this makes for grim reading for Villa fans.
Please don't despair Villa fans. I might be wrong and we'll see a Libor Kozak hat-trick. But really, I just want to see fight. Fight like lions. Fight like you fought last season, and give us back hope.