When you saw the Aston Villa starting line-up against Cardiff City, it felt the writing was on the wall in terms of getting three points. Neil Warnock’s team were always going to battle and hustle for everything in the middle of the park and with the loss of Mile Jedinak, the Villa midfield trio of Gardner, Westwood and Bacuna just wasn’t going to be much cop.
This was a midfield weaker than the one that got Villa relegated and one that has zero chance of assisting in any promotion attempt. Villa needed something different. Get Tshibola in there? Maybe even play with three centre-backs as a one-off to increase Villa’s physical presence on the pitch?
The result was a surprise to no one as Villa were out fought in the first half. Bruce admitting the error of his ways, when he subbed both Westwood and Gardner at half-time.
Villa were better in the second half as a result of the substitutes, but lacked the cutting edge to get any points.
In terms of Villa’s promotion hopes, recent results and performances have brought a real concern as to the legitimacy of such aspirations.
Here’s five reasons to be cheerful as Villa faces its most critical month of the season
Having a chairman who tweets you and a manager who is a warm and a jolly nice chap who even managed to get the Blues promoted from the Championship once upon a time, means jack all when you seem to be treading water in the middle of the table.
Turning a team around is not an easy process and the method of throwing money at the situation has failed Villa, transfer window after transfer window. There’s been over £50 million thrown at the team in each of the last two summers.
We must now build a proper team. Not simply just stock up the squad with what are deemed on paper as the best players of the Championship. They need to be the best players for this specific Villa team in the Championship.
Now the honeymoon period is over, supporters and the new Villa board will know this promotion game isn’t as easy to play as perhaps first thought. This should lead to a sharper focus, which can only be good for the club in the long run.
MOMS keeps harping on about that being able to grind out results against the bottom six teams will not get Villa into the play-off spots. This is NOT requesting Villa to play total football, but to get the basics right (passing to your own players, marking the opposition, making runs for your teammates etc), which would improve the woeful and frustrating performances straight away.
Certain fans seem to be happy with playing error-riddled football, if you get the result. Well, if it was the recipe for three points every time, it would certainly be the way forward, unfortunately, it’s not. In recent games it didn’t work against better teams like Norwich and Leeds and now it’s coming up short against those bottom six teams that make up the majority of Villa’s wins this season (6 out of 8).
So the good news is surely every supporter knows that improvement is needed now. A rise in playing standards = better results. Simple.
3. Return of the Tshibola
The Tshibola situation has been a strange one , he showed promise under Di Matteo, yet seemed to be sulking in the U-23’s under Bruce.
Did he have an attitude problem? Did he fall out with Bruce? Because when a team that wants to be promoted is starting an away game with a midfield of Gardner, Westwood and Bacuna, there must be some problem.
Bruce admitted after the Cardiff City game that his first XI might not have been the right choice. Having brought Tshibola on at half-time, hopefully this will present a chance for Tshibola to step up and most importantly, improve the Villa midfield.
4. January Sales
Last season Villa didn’t bother getting caught up in the January sales. A failed work permit for a Croatian keeper didn’t help, but in the end it was a transfer window that seemed to signal the waving of a white flag to the fate of relegation.
This time it’s role reversal. If they don’t get involved this season, they are essentially waving goodbye to promotion!
This January, it’s not a case of splashing the cash wildly, but getting the right players in to build a proper team.
5. 2016 is Over
Okay, 2017 hasn’t started too well, but 2016 was shocking. Relegation, followed by a stumbling campaign in the Championship. Some fans have claimed it wasn’t all bad because we got new owners, but ultimately you have to let the league table dictate if that’s a good thing or not.
At the moment, you can’t call them a success after one failed manager and some questionable transfers, but for Tony Xia and co, it’s all about 2017, as this is the year we’ll truly know if they are doing a good job.
The early months were always going to be a difficult transition for any new owner and it hasn’t been plain sailing. The will and enthusiasm to succeed is certainly there though, so hopefully that will serve us all well.
On a side note…
Normally, the true start of a year, certainly in football terms, is the FA Cup 3rd round. Yes, Spurs away is a very tall order considering Villa’s recent form against them and the fact Mike Dean will be the ref, but lets at least give them a game and restore some pride in front of the BBC cameras.