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Mid-season report: Aston Villa

Sports Mole recaps Aston Villa's first half of the season, during which their home struggles have seen them sucked them into relegation trouble.

Aston Villa have spent the first half of this season trying to put themselves in a position to avoid the relegation battle that they were involved in for much of last term.

Paul Lambert's men have pulled off some notable scalps, but are yet to find a formula to their home troubles and are thus only four points clear of the bottom three.

Here, Sports Mole looks back at a topsy-turvy six months for the West Midlands outfit.

August

Lambert added seven young players to their squad in the transfer window, but perhaps his best piece of summer business was persuading Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal target Christian Benteke to pen a new deal at Villa Park.

Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on August 17, 2013© Getty Images

Keeping hold of the Belgian striker, who scored 19 goals last season, soon paid dividends as he netted twice in a surprise 3-1 opening-day win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, and then again in a valiant losing effort against Chelsea the following Tuesday.

The tough fixtures continued to come thick and fast as Liverpool took maximum points back to Anfield, but Villa were given some respite from facing Champions League hopefuls when they comfortably negotiated the visit of Rotherham United in the Capital One Cup second round.

September

Benteke was on the scoresheet again at home to Newcastle United, but it was not enough for them to take anything from a match in which Danish defender Jores Okore's promising start in a claret and blue shirt was abruptly halted by a season-ending knee problem.

They suffered another injury blow next time out, as Benteke limped off against Norwich City, but his replacement Libor Kozak came off the bench to net the winning goal and his first since arriving in a £7m deadline-day deal from Lazio.

Several key players were rested as Lambert sacrificed cup glory in favour of league duties when a much-changed side were squashed 4-0 by Tottenham Hotspur, but the Scot's rotation proved worthwhile when Villa pulled off another shock when Manchester City visited Birmingham.

Libor Kozak of Aston Villa in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Aston Villa at Carrow Road on September 21, 2013© Getty Images

Andreas Weimann and Karim El Ahmadi were among the goals in their 3-2 win over the Citizens, but it was Leandro Bacuna who stole the show with a wonderful free kick as Villa picked up their first Premier League win of the campaign on their own turf.

October

The spoils were shared in a goalless stalemate with Hull City prior to an international break which gave Benteke time to recover from his hip concern, but the powerful forward has yet to score since making his return as a substitute in a 2-0 home loss to Spurs.

His struggles in front of goal coincided with Villa drawing blanks in two more successive games - the first of which was another Villa Park disappointment in the form of a 2-0 defeat to Roberto Martinez's impressive Everton.

November

American goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a consistent performer throughout the first half of their campaign, was on top form during a 0-0 draw at West Ham United which kicked off Villa's unbeaten November.

Set-piece specialist Bacuna was at it once more with in a 2-0 triumph over Cardiff City in which Kozak also netted, and the Midlanders seemed to have found their goalscoring touch again when they came from two down to claim a point from their local derby with West Bromwich Albion.

Aston Villa's English midfielder Ashley Westwood celebrates scoring his team's second goal to equalise with Aston Villa's English striker Gabriel Agbonlahor during the English Premier League game on November 25, 2013© Getty Images

However, they finished the month by failing to find the net for the fifth time in seven matches, but fortunately bottom-of-the-table Sunderland were also lacking a clinical presence up front as Lambert's men drew to stay in the top half of the table.

December

A vintage counter-attacking display saw them pick up three points at high-flying Southampton, where Gabriel Agbonlahor finally opened his account for the season, but a five-match unbeaten sequence was ended by new Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen four days later.

That sparked a four-game losing run during which the usually talismanic Benteke was as ineffective as he has been since arriving in the Premier League, with Manchester United and Stoke City both inflicting defeats on a Villa side leaking goals without injured skipper Ron Vlaar.

Gabby Agbonlahor of Aston Villa scores the opening goal of the game during the Barclays Premier League match against Swansea on December 28, 2013© Getty Images

A division joint high sixth home loss of the season followed as Dwight Gayle struck a 90th-minute winner for rejuvenated Crystal Palace, before Agbonlahor's early effort was cancelled out in a 1-1 draw with Swansea City 48 hours later.

With speculation over Benteke's future resurfacing, and players such as Fabian Delph unable to yet recapture their early-season form, Villa could be in for an uncertain second half of the campaign and another nervy fight against the drop.

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Roland Lamah of Swansea City heads in their first goal past Brad Guzan of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match on December 28, 2013
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rhs 2.0
Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
CLiverpool38323385335299
2Manchester CityMan City382639102356781
3Manchester UnitedMan Utd391813867373067
4Chelsea392061370571366
5Leicester CityLeicester381881267412662
6Tottenham HotspurSpurs3816111161471459
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves381514951401159
8Arsenal381414105648856
9Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd381412123939054
10Burnley38159144350-754
11Everton401411154858-1053
12Southampton38157165160-952
13Newcastle UnitedNewcastle381111163858-2044
14Crystal Palace381110173150-1943
15Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton38914153954-1541
16West Ham UnitedWest Ham38109194962-1339
17Aston Villa3898214167-2635
RBournemouth3897224065-2534
RWatford38810203664-2834
RNorwich CityNorwich3856272675-4921

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