Manchester United 2-0 Sunderland

Mistaken Identity: Roger East made the wrong call sending off Wes Brown instead of John O'Shea

Mistaken Identity: Roger East made the wrong call sending off Wes Brown instead of John O’Shea

Wayne Rooney scored twice to end his eight-match Premier League goal drought as Manchester United beat 10-man Sunderland to move up to third at Old Trafford.

But the game will be remembered for Roger East’s erroneous dismissal of Wes Brown in the incident which led to United finally finding the breakthrough.

Radamel Falcao was fouled by John O’Shea inside the box, but having made the right call to award the spot-kick, East inexplicably sent off the wrong man.

Rooney added a second with a close-range header, marking a welcome return to winning ways for Louis van Gaal’s side following last week’s defeat to Swansea.

In a bright opening, it was the England forward who flashed an early warning sign, freeing himself from Lee Cattermole in the box only to direct his header wide at the near post.

Sunderland were next to have a go. Angel Di Maria was dispossessed by Patrick van Aanholt and when Connor Wickham ran 40 yards fully unopposed, only the sharp instincts of David De Gea low down to his left kept out the striker’s shot.

It was United’s turn to attack. Di Maria’s cross was taken off the toes of Marcos Rojo by Anthony Reveillere and when Ashley Young pounced on Cattermole’s slack clearance, he could only blaze his shot inches over the bar when well set.

Back down the other end, Jermain Defoe was next to try his luck from the edge of United’s penalty area, pushing the ball out of his feet, as is his trademark, before shooting powerfully into the arms of De Gea.

Following the frantic start, it was the home side who took control. Antonio Valencia’s deep cross was taken down by Young, who this time shot low but was denied unbelievably by the sliding O’Shea, with the ball rebounding off the defender onto the woodwork.

Van Gaal has been heavily criticised for his style of play during a relatively successful run of form which was brought to an end at Swansea. This was the Dutchman’s response.  Young was by far the busiest of United’s attacking prongs, cutting in from the left to stroke another shot narrowly wide of Costel Pantilimon’s left-hand post.

Goalless at the interval, van Gaal sought to find a breakthrough with the introduction of Adnan Januzaj upon the restart for the disappointing Di Maria, and it was United who continued to pose the greater threat.

The hitherto anonymous Falcao failed to connect properly with Chris Smalling’s cross, with Rojo lifting the loose ball into the increasingly exasperated Stretford End.

It wasn’t until the hour-mark that the hosts threatened again, Rooney’s set-play breaking free to Januzaj on the edge of the box, whose left-foot shot fizzed wide once more.

Then came the moment of controversy. East was correct in his decision to award the penalty. He was right to call it a red card. But he picked the wrong man, deeming Brown to have caused the offense when it was O’Shea who pulled on Falcao’s shirt.

The Colombian fell at the feet of Brown as he tumbled, but it is the latest blunder in a catalogue of refereeing gaffes to have trended this season. Rooney dispatched the resulting penalty low to his left beyond the fingertips of Pantilimon.

East’s error took the spotlight off Falcao’s mesmeric touch and turn that drew the foul, and it was the striker’s last involvement, as van Gaal had already made the decision to replace him with Marouane Fellaini.

It was Rooney’s 100th home Premier League goal (93 at Old Trafford), and his 101st came with six minutes remaining, as Sunderland’s resistance faded down the tunnel with the unfortunate Brown.

Januzaj cut in from the right, and when the substitute’s shot was parried by Pantilimon, Rooney was on hand to head in the rebound.

Fellaini ought to have provided a third in added time, firing at Pantilimon’s legs with Ander Herrera’s effort ruled offside after Valencia blasted the ricochet back towards goal.

This time, the officials made the right decision, but the damage to their reputation had already been inflicted.

Back in the groove: Wayne Rooney ended his eight-game Premier League goal drought with a brace on Saturday

Back in the groove: Wayne Rooney ended his eight-game Premier League goal drought with a brace

Man United: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Evans, Rojo, Blind, Herrera, Young, Di Maria (Januzaj 45), Rooney (Mata 86), Falcao (Fellaini 68)

Sunderland: Pantilimon, Reveillere, van Aanholt, Brown, O’Shea (c), Cattermole, Larsson, Gomez, Johnson (Fletcher 81), Wickham (Vergini 67), Defoe (Graham 67).

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Premier League Returns: 10 Things to Watch Out For This Weekend

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  1. Burnley Can Do A Bradford

It would seem that Chelsea’s grip on a fourth Premier League title has only tightened during a period in which they’ve been far from their best this calendar year, but after a week that put the club in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons following a fiercely contested first-leg in the last-16 of the Champions League, Burnley can travel south intent on replicating the attacking abandon that worked so successfully for Bradford last month in the FA Cup.

The Blues have looked far from impenetrable at home in recent weeks, muddling their way through games in the absence of key players through a combination of form, injuries and suspensions. The siege mentality built up at the Bridge, and indeed the return of the banned Diego Costa, might make Chelsea a wounded animal, but expect Sean Dyche to stick by his philosophy of having a real go at, irrespective of the gulf in class.

  1. Yaya’s Back With Bony

No sooner had the returning champion set foot back on English soil than stories began to emerge that the talismanic midfielder was once more considering his options. Yaya Toure can afford a broad smile after leading Ivory Coast to their first Africa Cup of Nations tournament win since 1992, but he must now channel that euphoria into Premier League points that will reinvigorate his side’s title defence.

The Stoke City victory aside, City have struggled in his absence – failing to win any of the six other Premier League games in which he has not played. With another date with Barcelona to come in the week, the visit of Newcastle to the Etihad must be treated as a dry run. Now is the time for Manuel Pellegrini’s side to click into gear, and with Wilfried Bony available for the first time since his £28m switch from Swansea, coupled with only four senior defenders being available for the Magpies, don’t expect a repeat of the Capital One defeat earlier this season.

  1. Sinking Swans

While the wealth of attacking options at City makes the validity of Toure’s overarching influence open to debate, the void left at the Liberty Stadium by Bony’s departure is undeniable. Swansea are boosted by the return of Gylfi Sigurdsson from suspension for the visit of Manchester United this weekend, but with the side comfortably 12 points above the relegation zone, it is hard not to draw a sense that Garry Monk is embarking on a period of rebuilding well in advance of the summer break.

In the short-term, having not reinvested a sizeable chunk of the Wilfried windfall, the reboot looks set to come in fits and starts, with results as inconsistent as the improbable victory at Southampton as meek surrenders at Blackburn and West Brom. The Swans face a United side defeated only once in 19 games with Bafetimbi Gomis leading the line having gone 13 Premier League games without a goal. In a week that revealed talks of foreign ownership are on-going, the sooner the south Wales club consolidate their top-flight status the better.

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  1. Poyet Under Pressure

Less assured of their Premier League status next season are Sunderland. Barely had the ink dried on many a writers’ copy proclaiming the arrival of Jermain Defoe as the most astute piece of January business following his second goal in as many games at Swansea that manager Gus Poyet was again at loggerheads with his supporters. Defoe may yet keep the Black Cats afloat this year, but his knack of scoring goals might not be enough to keep Poyet in his job.

“It’s always our fault,” bellowed the naysayers among the 4,200 travelling fans at Valley Parade last Sunday in reference to the Uruguayans habit of reeling out excuses, disgruntled at their status as a club in the lower reaches of the league seemingly in stasis, with an ailing relationship at its core in need of a remedy.

Poyet’s open letter this week was designed to be just that, but victory over a resurgent West Bromwich Albion at the Stadium of Light this Saturday would provide a far tastier tonic. It begins a pivotal run of fixtures for the Wearsiders, with Aston Villa and Hull City to face in the coming weeks, and while the recent spate of appointments elsewhere has left a shortage of credible alternatives, American Owner Elis Short has previous in gambling on a managerial change going into the final throes of a season, replacing Martin O’Neill with Paulo Di Canio in 2013. Having directly addressed the fans, Poyet needs that ‘very important victory’.

  1. Does Ramsey Stick Or Twist?

While Sunderland appeared paralyzed through fear in the defeat to Bradford – after becoming the first team not to win at home to QPR – it remains to be seen if a first away win will conversely release Rangers from the psychological shackles on the road. The 2-0 success over Sunderland was achieved without top goalscorer Charlie Austin, who is expected to have recovered from a foot injury in time for the trip to Hull this weekend.

The striker was not missed the last time the side travelled to the North-East. Indeed, while Austin contributed throughout the miserable run of 11 away defeats previously, the one other away fixture in which the west Londoners were without their natural spearhead – at Everton in December – there were signs of another way of winning.

Bobby Zamora was used from the substitutes bench that night and, having been extremely unlucky to find themselves 3-0 down, Rangers were by far the better side in the second-half. Zamora reduced the arrears, and followed up that goal with his stunning volley last week. Appointed on a full-time basis until the end of the season, manager Chris Ramsey’s first task will be decide whether to stick with Zamora as the lone striker or revert back to a system involving Austin that has hitherto proved fruitless away from Loftus Road.

  1. Sherwood To Lay First Brick In Villa Fortress

Following a routine victory on Easter Saturday last April, Tim Sherwood credited himself with the rise of Harry Kane after the striker’s third goal in as many games for Tottenham. “Harry’s fortunate that I give him an opportunity,” the new Aston Villa boss enthused at the time, in reference to the many managers who ‘opt to play big-money signings over young kids’.

With each passing stellar performance from the young England striker since, Sherwood’s stock has risen with the flawed credibility of that assertion, which coincidentally fell a day after Lucy Beale was murdered in Eastenders. The Sherwood household would agree that the denouement of that particular drawn-out search was a cop-out, but Villa fans will hope the appointment of English football’s highly sought-after coach doesn’t prove such a red herring.

God only knows where Christian Benteke was the last time Kathy Beale was on the aforementioned BBC soap, but one suspects he was in better form than he is today. The Belgian was among the most coveted strikers in Europe when he signed a new long-term deal at Villa Park in the summer of 2013. Having mustered only 14 goals since, Sherwood will need to call upon those inimitable man-management skills of his once more.

Also on his agenda is bringing ‘Fortress Villa Park’ back from the dead. Just 17 home wins in 69 Premier League games dating back to the end of the 2010-11 campaign speaks volumes of the ease with which sides have left the Midlands victorious in recent years. One such welcome recipient was this weekend’s visitors Stoke City, who won 4-1 on their last visit down the M6 last March. 

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  1. Palace Concern At Home Form

Another side struggling at home this season are Crystal Palace. The recent troubling incidents involving objects thrown from the fanatical section of the Homesdale Road end is not the only blot on manager Alan Pardew’s second coming at Crystal Palace. While Pardew admits it is not in his power to prevent missiles from entering the pitch, it is within his remit to stop his side from conceding goals that spark such ugly scenes. Palace have won all four matches on the road since the former Newcastle United manager took over, but he is yet to fully rectify the slump in home form since the departure of Tony Pulis last summer.

No side has lost more on home soil than Palace’s six so far this term, and with Arsenal the visitors on Saturday, Pardew will be after improved performances in front of his own fans to ensure his side aren’t sucked back into a relegation mire. The Gunners are in Champions League action in midweek, but given that just five points separate United in third and Liverpool in seventh, Arsene Wenger can ill-afford his side to turn their attentions away from domestic matters just yet.

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  1. Balotelli’s Body Language

This Sunday’s game between Southampton and Liverpool had been billed as the return of Saints old boys to St Mary’s, and while there is bound to be interest in the respective receptions of Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert, the spotlight will once again be stolen by Liverpool’s enfant terrible Mario Balotelli. For in an act of personal triumph, scoring the winner in Thursday night’s Europa League tie with Besiktas, the mercurial Italian striker still found controversy.

Steven Gerrard, in his punditry role for ITV, called his decision to take penalty-kick duties off Jordan Henderson ‘disrespectful’, sending social media into meltdown. It has been perceived in some quarters as a slip of the tongue akin to throwing one’s teammate under a bus, and it will be interesting to see how Balotelli, who took to Instagram to call for the incident to be forgotten, now responds to being singled out by his skipper on the pitch – if given the nod. In the unlikely scenario that both he and Lambert are on the pitch at the same time that a penalty were awarded for the visitors, it’ll be one hell of a fight for the ball.

  1. The Shackles Are Off At Everton

Roberto Martinez might now wish for an artificial pitch every week. The Everton boss said his side’s 4-1 demolition of Swiss side Young Boys on Thursday brought back memories of last season, and following a December and January in which he described his players as ‘pedestrian’ in their performances, a period of going back to being hard to beat has ensued, at the expense of the free-flowing football that is in his DNA.

It worked a treat in the slender win at Selhurst Park, whilst it was very nearly successful at home to Liverpool and away to Chelsea – but the Spaniard’s attacking line-up in Bern said everything about the manner in which he wanted his side to approach that particular game. Martinez wanted his players to express themselves in order to score an all-important away goal. They managed four. Lukaku could have had six.

Even in such a pleasing evening’s work we saw the pitfalls of the manager’s preference for a high-risk philosophy, in the self-inflicted dismissal of John Stones, but after the bleakest of winters, such a big win will have sent confidence levels through the roof at Finch Farm. Leicester City are the visitors to Goodison Park on Sunday, and while the Foxes have given a good account of themselves in almost all their defeats this season, don’t expect any such European hangover to occur this time.

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  1. Spursy Sundays Are Back

Since the end of the Europa League group stages last November, Tottenham have found their groove under new boss Mauricio Pochetinno. Winning 10 and losing only three league games since, Spurs have belatedly joined the chasing pack in search for a top four finish. It is a far cry from the early weeks of the season, when home defeats to Liverpool, West Brom, Newcastle and Stoke heavily impeded any hopes of a smooth transition under new management, labelling the side ‘Spursy’ for losing matches only they could with their abundance of talent.

This week saw Tottenham resume their involvement in Europe’s secondary competition at home to Fiorentina and, with Kane notably absent from the starting line-up, the north Londoners were far from their fluent best in the 1-1 draw.

Boosted by the High Court’s ruling that the club can now go ahead with their plans for a new stadium, there’s no love lost between themselves and this Sunday’s visitors West Ham, who know a thing or two about disputed land.

Pochetinno has stuck by his principles of turning his squad into the fittest in the league through a game built on high intensity honed in his double training sessions, but with the visit to Florence next Thursday preceding the Capital One Cup final against Chelsea, the side he selects to take care of the Hammers, under a wounded Sam Allardyce, can expect a stern test.

Viewing Everton as a stepping stone is just plain wrong, Rom

Itching for a move?  Romelu Lukaku has voiced his desire to 'arrive at a top club', less than a year after joining Everton.

Itching for a move? Romelu Lukaku has voiced his desire to ‘arrive at a top club’, less than a year after joining Everton.

If there’s one item this Valentine’s Day that should be struck off the list of desirables in households draped in Everton blue, it is Belgian chocolate.

The tribe of Toffeemen are having a sticky time of it as it is, marooned in 12th place in the Barclays Premier League and out of both domestic competitions, but after Kevin Mirallas’ admittance that he wishes to seek a new challenge should the Blues essentially fail to win the Europa League, Romelu Lukaku has joined his compatriot in a clear show of indiscretion.

“It was brilliant to play at Chelsea and I had a good reception,” Lukaku told The Sun after Everton’s 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

“They know I’m a good player but that I want to develop so I can eventually get back to playing for a club like Chelsea.

“I don’t have a secret ambition to rejoin — there are other clubs in the world. I just want to grow as a player and eventually arrive at a top club again.”

Granted, these words are open to interpretation: to some, they are merely perceived as the media causing unnecessary mischief in search of the next club to fall off the crisis carousel. But most Evertonians waking up this morning will have recoiled at the comments.

Of bigger concern, following the Mirallas confession, is what impact the club-record signing’s naivety will have on the other players. How will the likes of John Stones, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Ross Barkley receive these quotes?

And what of the younger generation of supporters? We all had our idols growing up, and a romance has always endured between Everton fans and the archetypal No9 centre forward: Young, Dean, Lawton, Hickson, Royle, Latchford, Sharp, Lineker, Cottee, Ferguson, Campbell. The list goes on. At 21, Lukaku may be young in age, but he arrived in England four years ago having finished top goalscorer in the Belgian Pro League with Anderlecht at just 17.

His desire to ‘arrive at a top club’ shows the strain of an indifferent personal campaign has done little to offset his self-confidence, while that of those around him appear shot. One goal conceded in four games is testament to a defensive solidity rediscovered with the return of Stones, but the swash-buckling attacking verve of last season has been lost at its expense, with Lukaku’s solitary strike in that time making Everton as a spectacle more akin to sitting through triple Science than tenants of the School of Science.

It is a far cry from that humid summer’s day when the media sat patiently waiting the unveiling of Lukaku at Finch Farm.

Evertonians allowed themselves to be carried along in a wave of optimism that afternoon, marvelling at statistics- the knee-jerk reaction of the modern age. Only Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney scored more Premier League goals that Lukaku’s 32 before his 21st birthday, so we were sold.

Anyone who was present at the first appearance of the striker’s loan spell last season at Upton Park, where his cameo helped turn a certain defeat into an unlikely 3-2 win, would vouch for his lack of progress under manager Roberto Martinez since.

Coming at the start of a week that will define whether Martinez has conclusively been dealt a dose of second-season syndrome, with the first leg of the Europa League round-of-32 tie against Young Boys in Berne next Thursday, the Spaniard could do without such comments from his main striker.

Unless Lukaku replicates the Herculean effort of that day, and fleetingly since, those ‘crowd members’ who fill Goodison Park fuelled with copious liquor and venomous daggers of discouragement will not have forgiven nor forgotten his words amid the swirl of negativity generated by only three home league wins this season when Leicester City are the visitors on February 22.

Lukaku was seen as the poster-boy of the club’s continued march away from mediocrity, but despite his not-unimpressive return of 10 goals from 36 appearances this term, his overall play has made him more like the figurehead of struggle, with the club’s lofty pipe dreams weighing down firmly on his broad shoulders.

The Belgian’s revelation only serve to paraphrase the ambition held by his employers for the best part of the last two decades, arguably ever since the club last tasted silverware in 1995, but more realistically since David Moyes first achieved back-to-back top half finishes in 2008, after the euphoria of the 2004/05 season had been viewed in its full context.

While Lukaku should heed the advice of knuckling down and scoring goals, Everton fans would do well to put a positive spin on the episode.

Being viewed as an elite player is something that no footballer worth their salt wouldn’t crave; it would be abnormal for a £28 million striker to be at a club meandering in mid-table and not be frustrated. The very reason he signed for the Toffees was on the premise that the club would be competing for a place in the Champions League and for end-of-season honours.

What is so refreshing about the meteoric rise of Harry Kane is the manner in which he seems so grounded off the field. Both his demeanour and performances have been rewarded with a handsome new contract, and both in attitude and his slicked-back appearance, the English striker bristles with confidence like a welcome relic of bygone years.

His popularity is only enhanced in light of the shithousery dished out on a regular basis by his peers of the same age who have too readily believed their own hype. Saido Berahino, Raheem Sterling and Lukaku can all boast valid arguments for being technically more gifted than the media’s new darling, but all have been guilty of neglecting the unwritten rule of the profession: it is almost never a good idea to antagonise your own supporters.

All the above cases have, of course, their slight nuances that make them unique; it is widely believed that the clearly talented Sterling is being advised to hold out for more than the £95,000-a-week deal currently on the table. Berahino has spent time in the naughty chair of Tony Pulis, the West Brom manager, and judging by his reaction to scoring in the 2-0 victory over Swansea in mid-week, his wings have been suitably clipped to allow for a far more conducive attitude to take shape.

Less preoccupied with appeasing supporters waiting to see a sizeable return on the price shelled out on him than the number of zeroes on his weekly pay cheque, Lukaku would do well to swot up on his club’s proud history of nine league titles – more than double that of Chelsea – before meeting with the media again.

Lambert defiant but will he be given time to turn things around at Aston Villa?

Lamb to the slaughter: Aston Villa supporters make their feelings towards Paul Lambert known.

Lamb to the slaughter: Aston Villa supporters make their feelings towards Paul Lambert known.

Perhaps only now will the alarm bells start to ring. The sound of the final whistle at the KC Stadium and news of QPR’s landmark victory at Sunderland confirmed a new low in Aston Villa’s dismal season, their downward spiral from early-season pacesetters to occupants of the bottom three compounded by defeat in Hull.

The Tigers looked toothless in the absence of Nikica Jelavic in a chastening January, but the return of the Croatian striker alongside their £3million purchase Dame N’Doye has breathed new life into Steve Bruce’s side. The duo were the chief tormentors in Villa’s latest tale of woe, which now amounts to just two wins in 21 games.

These were a critical three points for Hull, whose confidence emanated from a fully deserved point at the home of the champions three days earlier. Bruce had yet more job speculation to address ahead of the game, but as the pressure will have eased on his own future after only his side’s third home win of the season – which lifted them above the dreaded dotted line for the first time in a month – so it will have mounted on his opposite number.

Paul Lambert admitted as much, describing his dressing room as ‘flat as you’ll probably get it’, but the hardened souls that made the trip up North were not so sedate in their despondency, unfurling a banner as cold as the Humberside air demanding his dismissal as manager.

Winter of discontent: little has lifted the gloom for Villa fans and a nervy three months lie ahead.

Winter of discontent: little has lifted the gloom for Villa fans and a nervy three months lie ahead.

The Holte End residents proclaim themselves ‘the 12th man’, their posters pointing the way to goal in defeat to Chelsea, but their self-deprecation is now beyond parody, their mood increasingly apathetic, their own Endgame staring motionlessly at the trapdoor to the Championship.

Randy Lerner admitted to wanting to sell the club last summer, but insists he remains engaged with his duties as the club’s owner, while chief executive Tom Fox recently offered words of support towards his beleaguered boss. But the renewed calls for a late managerial change, and the recent examples where fresh ideas have given clubs an upturn in fortunes, will have registered with those in power.

The pressure coming from outside the boardroom walls has steadily increased on Lambert ever since he signed a new five-year contract last September. One would be forgiven for thinking the relative ease with which a side boasting the Premier League’s worst home record consigned him to a 50th defeat in 101 games under his stewardship would severely test his unswerving belief in survival.

But to his credit, the Scotsman spoke bullishly last night, earmarking his side’s remaining fixtures as ‘13 cup finals’. “They are the biggest games of the players’ careers,” the 45-year-old admitted. “I still believe 100 per cent that the football club will be fine and will stay up. We’ve been trying to play in the right way but now is the time to win ugly.”

“We’re in a fight and we’ve all got to stand up to get ourselves out of it. The mood in the dressing room is as flat as it could possibly get. Everybody’s going to have to show character from me right down.”

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Freefall Figures: the Birmingham Mail called for Lambert to be sacked on Wednesday, and the stats support a lack of progress.(Source: Sky Sports)

Figures of the Freefall: the Birmingham Mail called for Lambert to be sacked on Wednesday, and the stats support a lack of progress.(Source: Sky Sports)

Lambert arrived at Villa Park in June 2012 buoyed by back-to-back promotions with Norwich City and fresh from a respectable campaign in the Premier League. Despite the brave face, his appearance has become increasingly fraught, as fans’ patience has waned in his credentials.

Pinpointing method in Lambert’s reign has been part of the problem (the Roy Keane episode only serves to accentuate the point). His insistence on a youth-based strategy in the first two seasons may have only brought occasional shoots of vindication, largely in the form of Fabian Delph, but nor did they flirt overtly with any notion of relegation.

Lambert called for patience but his transfer policy last summer suggested a different tack – one that appeared to admit his own faculty for bringing the talents of his squad to fruition would not be fully realized. Experienced heads were brought in with detractors forewarning a ‘batten down the hatches’ job lay ahead.

New recruit Carles Gil has added much-needed impetus going forward – Lambert will hope his punt on Scott Sinclair will also pay dividends – while the recently signed deal to keep Delph at the club can at least be viewed as having prevented him from leaving for nothing at the end of the season.

Yet it would appear that the race to avoid the drop will come down to a shoot-out between strikers at the respective strugglers, with Villa currently in the bottom three only on goal difference.

With just 12 goals, no side in Europe’s top five leagues has scored less than the Villains. Indeed, the only team in top-flight history to score fewer goals after 25 games was Leicester (11) in 1977/78 – and the narrative of the next six teams in the Premier League era to have fared marginally better all ended with relegation.

Never has the need for Christian Benteke to rediscover his potency in front of goal been so desperate.

The farmed-out Darren Bent’s continued resurgence under Steve McLaren at Derby County will not have gone unnoticed by the Villa faithful, and with Libor Kozak’s date of return from a broken leg still unknown, Rickie Lambert’s decision to stay at Liverpool on transfer deadline day may well prove extremely costly.

Some Villa fans have taken to local phone-ins to voice their belief that a season of rebuilding in the Championship, after several years of sleepwalking in the top flight, is required; a reality shock from which the club will emerge stronger.

Given the club’s history and huge fan base, they argue, it would be hard to envisage a lengthy period outside of the elite were the worst-case scenario to occur – but supporters of Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday will tell them that this should never be counted on.

Lambert will hope that this weekend’s FA Cup Fifth Round tie with bitter rivals Leicester will provide the necessary fillip, against a manager similarly under-fire and with more pressing issues than holding onto vague hopes of silverware.

What is for certain, whether Villa manage to pull themselves clear of trouble or not, a pivotal summer of upheaval must occur, starting at the top.