Former Premier League giants searching for a first away win in 14 months when they visit Deepdale
The Championship seemed cut and dry to some this year with usual Premier League mainstays Villa and Newcastle surely set for a swift return to the top flight.
Rafa Benitez is steering a steady course at St James’ Park with the Magpies third in the table but it has been far tougher going for those in claret and blue.
The Villans are currently 17th in the table, two places above PNE with the same points haul of 10 points from 10 games.
They have not won since August 13 however, an eight-game run that has included seven draws and a defeat.
Much more is expected – not just due to Villa’s history but also the amount of new Chinese owner Dr Tony Xia’s money Di Matteo has spent trying to rebuild a squad that was widely considered one of the worst in Premier League history last season.
There’s been £15m for Bristol City striker Jonathan Kodjia, £12m for Ross McCormack from Fulham, £8m for Jordan Ayew and that is just in the final third.
Proven experience in Bournemouth’s Tommy Elphick and Crystal Palace’s Mile Jedinak has also been brought in to reshape the spine of the side.
The squad was not without some talent already, Di Matteo becoming the latest manager to try and get the best out of Jack Grealish, the promising playmaker having been fined after a late-night party at a Birmingham hotel just last week.
The investment and the stuttering start means the new boss is already under pressure, despite having only taken over in June.
The 1-1 draw at Barnsley on Tuesday was the latest frustrating night for the Champions League winner with Chelsea, Sam Winnall’s late goal cancelling out Ayew’s strike just after the hour mark.
The Italian knows results need to change sooner rather than later.
Di Matteo said: “We have drawn too many games that we should have won.
“Every game that you don’t win adds more pressure onto us.
“We have done it ourselves. We have put ourselves in this situation.
“That little margin that is between winning and drawing is still there. We need to get over it.”
“You try to analyse it. You try to find a way to win the games.
“I thought the team battled hard in the first and second half.
“We created so many chances but we need to be more clinical.
“There were some excellent chances to score the second and third goal but we couldn’t manage it.”
Winnall’s goal meant Villa’s search for an away win in the league goes on.
This Saturday at Deepdale they will be looking to put an end to a run that goes back to the opening day of last season, Rudy Gestede’s header handing them a 1-0 victory at Bournemouth.
The late goal should not have come as a surprise, Villa having let leads slip in the last 10 minutes with regularity so far this season as they have dropped 11 points from winning positions.
Not that any of this has deterred their fans at all, with 5,000 set to pack into a sold out Bill Shankley Kop on Saturday.