Aston Villa Focus – The curse of the half-time lead

It is a statistic that fuels the anger of the Aston Villa fans, and leaves them dreaming of what could have been for their beloved club this season. If football matches in the Premier League lasted 45 minutes, Aston Villa would currently be sitting in sixth place on 42 points, six points of the Champions League places, and just seven points behind champions Manchester City.

If you break it down further and look at just the matches away from Villa Park, the “45-minute league” shows them sitting in joint third, six places ahead of Arsenal, and 10 ahead of their conquerors at the weekend, Liverpool.

It was a story that has repeated itself over and over again on Sunday, as Aston Villa were looking comfortable at half-time with a 1-0 lead, and a few missed chances that could have led to a few more. But it would be the visiting team that would eventually come away with the spoils, as Liverpool punished a scared and timid second-half Aston Villa, grabbing two goals and deserving to win by one or two more.

A game of two halves could not have found much more stronger meaning than with Aston Villa this season, and it is a curse that has lead Paul Lambert’s team to a relegation battle that increasingly looks like a losing one.

So how can Lambert buck the trend against local rivals Stoke on Saturday? A win for Villa would see them move to within a point of the struggling Potters, and would almost certainly guarantee a worrying end to the season for Tony Pulis’ side. On the other hand, a win for Stoke would almost guarantee them safety, and would condemn Villa to another week in the bottom three, a place they have grown accustomed to in recent weeks. And if Aston Villa take the lead against Stoke in the opening 45 minutes, the fans may not have much reason to cheer.

The start of the season was a clue for how the rest of the campaign would pan out, as in their opening five fixtures in the league, Villa were twice winning 1-0 in the first-half, against Newcastle and Southampton away, only two see their side gain just one point from those two matches, eventually losing the match against newly promoted Saints 4-1 after the almost forgotten Darren Bent had given them the lead.

In the months of October and November they would see the curse strike again, with Villa once more holding a 1-0 lead at home to both Norwich and Manchester United going in at the break. They even managed to score early in the second 45 against United, and still saw their side fail to gain a single point, losing the match 3-2. More recently, a 2-0 lead to rivals West Brom at the Hawthorns, and a 3-1 lead away to Everton, have seen both matches end in draws, and their most recent game against Liverpool continues the theme.

If Villa are to beat Stoke on Saturday – a game which they really need to win if they want to survive another season in the Premier League – they may actually need Stoke to score first. Two comeback victories have recently occurred against fellow strugglers Reading and QPR, and if you look at the history of this current campaign, it seems grabbing a victory from losing positions seems to be the trick to success for this young side Lambert has assembled.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Stoke v Aston Villa

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