Aston Villa-Norwich City Preview
Consecutive draws after 10 losses in 12 matches represent a revival these days for Aston Villa.
The question is whether the green shoots of recovery will bloom into a victory before the calendar year of 2015 runs out.
Villa (1-5-12) have still not recorded a Premier League win since beating Bournemouth on opening day in August, making Monday's match against relegation rivals Norwich City surely a must-win affair if Villa are to maintain even the pretense of retaining top-flight status this campaign.
Last-place Villa are nine points adrift of the Canaries, who are currently 17th on 17 points, outside the relegation zone only on goal difference.
The Villans have drawn Newcastle United and West Ham United in their last two matches, both with 1-1 scorelines. Manager Remi Garde left their Boxing Day encounter with the Hammers feeling Villa had missed an opportunity to record a vital win.
"When you look at the game, of course we deserve more points," Garde said. "West Ham defended very well. We knew that because they'd had three clean sheets in a row.
"The feeling is more of frustration than anything else because we gave 100% today and we probably deserved more than that."
Villa have now drawn three of their six league games under the Frenchman and although a win remains elusive, the manager feels the spirit among the squad means three points will arrive sooner rather than later.
"The energy between the players is much better than a few weeks ago," he said. "Hopefully it will help us have this type of performance regularly."
While the Canaries (4-5-9) need the points to decisively distance themselves from Villa, they also need victories to save themselves from being similarly cut adrift.
The Carrow Road side have just two wins in their last 13 (2-4-7) and were only kept out of the relegation zone on Boxing Day thanks to Everton's late winner at Newcastle United. Alex Neil's side were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane thanks to Harry Kane's double - one via penalty - and a Tom Carroll strike.
"There wasn't much in the game until we conceded the penalty," Neil said. "Once they scored the second, it was tough.
"They were better than us today. Our use of the ball can be better. We wanted to get something but came up against a good side."
In the immediate aftermath of the defeat, Neil turned his attentions to Monday night.
"The next game against Aston Villa is crucial for us and now we'll start preparing for that," he said.
Neil will be without Matthew Jarvis (knee) for Villa's visit, while Andre Wisdom (hamstring) is doubtful. Villa will be without Jordan Amavi (ACL) and Gary Gardner (ankle) for Monday's game, and Micah Richards (knee) and Carlos Sanchez (knock) are both doubtful.
Villa did the double over City the last time the Canaries were in the top flight in 2013-14, winning 1-0 at Carrow Road thanks to a Libor Kozak goal and posting a 4-1 victory in the reverse fixture. Wes Hoolahan gave Norwich the lead, but a Christian Benteke double and strikes from Leandro Bacuna and a Sebastien Bassong own goal secured Villa's victory
Villa have won four straight against Norwich in all competitions and are unbeaten in five (4-1-0). Norwich last beat the Villans in May 2012 through goals from Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson.