x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Aston Villa's defence is the root of the problems on road

Despite an all-star strike force, the performance of the back four on the road could be the factor that sees them relegated.

Aston Villa conceded three goals in their last Premier League away game, a 3-2 defeat at Bolton Wanderers on March 5. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Aston Villa conceded three goals in their last Premier League away game, a 3-2 defeat at Bolton Wanderers on March 5. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Last Saturday, when England took on Wales in a qualifying match for the 2012 European Championships, the Aston Vila duo of Darren Bent and Ashley Young were part of a three-man attack, along with Wayne Rooney. Bent scored one and Young set up both goals in a 2-0 win.

Three days later, for their friendly against Ghana, Young was joined by Stewart Downing, another Villa teammate, in England's attack as Bent dropped to the bench. Downing set up Andy Carroll's goal in the 1-1 draw after being put through by Young.

Impressive performances, particularly by Young. Though Carroll and Rooney are strong contenders to start for England in attack, it is feasible that, at some point, Fabio Capello's strike force could be made up of Villa players.

If is also possible that the trio could be plying their trade next season in the Championship, English football's second tier.

Villa are 14th in the Premier League table, just a point off the relegation zone. With only three points separating the bottom eight, it is hard to foresee which three teams will go down. The traditional safety net of 40 points may not be enough this season.

What works against Villa is their awful defensive record away from home. Villa have lost nine of their 15 games on the road, winning just twice.

At the root of that record is a back four that has been unable to keep a clean sheet on their travels, and lets in an average of 2.27 goals per game. Only Blackburn Rovers have a worse record than that and they are in just as much trouble.

Villa's goal difference, given that they only manage to score an average on a goal per game away from home, is minus 19. When you are letting in that amount of goals on a regular basis, it is hard to see where another win will come from, regardless of what Villa's international strike force does.

Villa's four remaining away games are tough - Everton on Saturday then the in-form West Ham United, local rivals West Bromwich Albion and title-chasing Arsenal. Villa do not have a bad record at West Ham and West Brom, but both those teams are also battling relegation.

Villa's away woes put all the more emphasis on their remaining home games against Stoke City, Newcastle United, Wigan and Liverpool.

They will not expect to get anything from a revitalised Liverpool, so taking maximum points from the other matches is vital to edge them past the 40-point mark and a chance of survival.

Gerard Houllier's side have a decent enough record at home: W6 D5 L4. That is identical to Blackburn, a spot above them in the relegation fight.

In fact, none of the bottom eight have lost more than seven home games or won less than four, which shows it is away form that is going to count.

 

twoods@thenational.ae