Aston Villa-West Brom Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Aston Villa were once touted as a contender to break into the top four of the Premier League.
They're a long way from that now, and captain Ron Vlaar is asking for the club to keep the faith.
Uncharacteristically sitting in the drop zone, Villa will try to begin reversing their fortunes by winning a league match for the first time in over a month against sputtering West Bromwich Albion in the West Midlands Derby on Saturday.
For three consecutive seasons Aston Villa (4-7-11) finished sixth in the Premier League, making them a fashionable selection to elevate into a Champions League spot heading into the 2010-11 season.
They haven't come close to living up to those lofty expectations, dropping down the table in each of the following seasons while currently sitting 18th with a minus-25 goal differential - the worst in the league.
Villa haven't suffered relegation since the 1986-87 season.
"It's hard. It's hard for everyone with the Villa heart," Vlaar told the team's official website. "We have to try and keep the faith that the results will come. But we must know that doesn't happen by itself.
"There are a lot of points to win. We have to look to ourselves and get results. What the other teams do, that doesn't matter. We have to take care of ourselves. That's the most important thing."
They've been proving incapable of that while going 0-1-4 since a shock 3-1 win at Liverpool on Dec. 15.
The Villans' latest disappointment came in a 1-0 home defeat to promoted Southampton last weekend, as they were kept off the score sheet for the fourth time in five matches. That loss also came on the heels of an embarrassing 3-1 loss to League Two's Bradford City in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semifinals Jan. 8. The return leg at Villa Park is scheduled for Tuesday.
Christian Benteke's performances in those games has come under scrutiny since he squandered key scoring opportunities, and that includes coming up empty on a season-high eight shots - two on target - versus Southampton.
Still, the forward leads Villa with six of their 17 league goals.
"Christian has been brilliant for us this season," defender Ciaran Clark said. "It's a team performance and we are all disappointed with each other that we haven't taken our chances."
West Brom's Romelu Lukaku offered some support to Benteke, a friend and fellow member of the Belgium national team.
"He's a good player, a very good header of the ball and someone who can hold it up well," Lukaku said on Aston Villa's website. "He has good technical qualities and is a great finisher.
"He can really make the difference for his team and be very dangerous."
Lukaku is doing his part for West Brom, leading them with nine goals after getting three in the past two league games. However, the Baggies failed to capitalize on that success, losing both matches including a 3-2 defeat to Reading last Saturday.
The hulking forward put them two up, but the Baggies surrendered that lead with Reading's scoring three times in the final eight minutes.
WBA, seventh in the Premier League, followed that up three days later by falling 1-0 to Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup, pushing their winless stretch to five matches (0-1-4).
Manager Steve Clarke feels the derby is enough motivation to begin reversing the current stretch.
"It's a massive game. It's big for the club, it's big for the supporters and it's big for the players," he told the team's official website.
Albion are 2-2-0 in the past four meetings with Villa, and the clubs tied 1-1 in Birmingham on Sept. 30.
Updated January 18, 2013