It is not hard for Aston Villa season ticket-holders to work out why their side have suffered a mild flirtation with relegation this winter.

Most of the Villa fans who have occupied a Villa Park only three-quarters full have seen the evidence with their own eyes.

Villa did, admittedly, improve a poor home sequence with Saturday's 1-0 win over Portsmouth. Even before that, manager David O'Leary had taken a look at the comparative ease of their run-in and perhaps rightly targeted six home victories out of six to finish this campaign. But the fact is that only in away matches, and watched by a much smaller following of die-hards, have Villa looked anything like a force.

A total of 18 away points is good enough to make them a top-half team. But, at home, a mere four league wins tells its own tale.

Villa are in grave danger of turning in their worst tally of home points since the Premiership began 14 years ago. That explains why this season's average league crowd is almost 3,000 down on last term.

Three of those four home wins have been 1-0. The other, against Everton on Boxing Day, provided four of this season's 15 home goals and was triggered by a Christmas present of an opening goal from the referee.

In the Villa dressing-room, they think the answer (worryingly for those fans who want to be entertained by the football, rather than simply the results) is simply to keep things tighter at the back. "We haven't kept enough clean sheets, especially at home," goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen said. "That's why we're down where we are."

Assistant manager Roy Aitken goes even further, suggesting that Villa's return of only five clean sheets from 14 home games (compared to four from as many away games) is down to too many individual errors.

"We've handed teams points," he said. "We've given away a lot of goals, rather than teams coming and outplaying us. But it's still hard to put your finger on why we haven't been so disciplined.

"Your home form is usually what keeps you in the division while your away form determines where you'll finish. And, although we've an excellent record on the road, playing at home has been the big problem.

"The last two seasons we've finished with nine or ten home wins."

Part of the problem, it has been argued, is the notorious lack of atmosphere at some Premiership grounds. All-seater stadiums are not conducive to the sort of crowd noise generated when Villa won the League title in 1980-81.

Villa's average crowd that season was 33,641, fewer t han the 34,415 that O'Leary's under-performing team attract. They made a lot more noise in those days.

Home advantage really meant something. Although the fans still have an effect at some Premiership grounds - most notably Anfield, Upton Park, St Andrew's, The Hawthorns - Villa Park is not one of them.

In Villa's FA Cup fifth round tie against Manchester City 17 days ago the presence of the BBC's live television cameras persuaded only 23,847 to pay at the turnstiles and 6,000 of them came from Manchester to fill the away end. The noise they made inspired their team to what, but for Sorensen, would have been a comfortable away win.

Should the fans inspire the players or vice versa? Juan Pablo Angel knew happier times at Villa Park when he arrived. He scored the winning goal against Bolton Wanderers that great day when Villa last led the Premiership table in October 2001. Although he has spent more time on the bench than on the pitch this season, Angel says it is the players' fault.

He said: "We know the fans aren't happy with the way we're playing here. But it is up to us to get it right.

"If we transformed our away form to the games at home we wouldn't be in the position we are.

"Maybe there is more pressure on the team but, when we play away we dig out a result and, at the moment, it doesn't look like we can get the same form here.

"It wasn't a good game to watch on Saturday but at least we got a good result. If we play the way we should play, we have a good chance to beat anyone over our final five home games."