Change in Fortune
After a 2-1 defeat at Reading led to many Aston Villa fans calling for Steve Bruce’s head, a run of six league games without defeat represent stabilization in B6.
Improved results have come through luck as well as design.
Sam Johnstone put in a masterclass performance at home to Brentford and three days later, Middlesbrough had a man disadvantage for 60 minutes, meaning that either goalless draw could have swung in a different direction.
Villa, who are 2/1 with bookemakers Betway to make the top six as of 25/9, have built on those slices of fortune with two more convincing displays against Barnsley and Nottingham Forest.
What stood out most strikingly in those games has been the performances of Keinan Davis.
It is ironic that the club have spent over £30 million on strikers since relegation to the Championship and yet the one most suited to spearheading attacks was always right under their nose in the academy.
Bruce likes his sides to get the ball in the box early, evidenced by the fact that Villa have played 22 crosses per game this season – the fifth most in the Championship.
Scott Hogan did well at Brentford, who play neat and tidy football with subtle through balls, but he struggles with the physical side of the game. Davis looks quick, strong, skillful and capable of holding the ball up for other players.
In the 2-1 win against Nottingham Forest, he linked up superbly with Albert Adomah, who showed composure to round the keeper for the opener and Jonathan Kodjia, who impressed on his return from injury. The Ivorian occupied deeper areas, showing his usual desire to get on the ball and run with it, which suggests his fitness could be key to his side’s promotion hopes.
Conor Hourihane might be similarly influential, having netted the winner with a sumptuous long-range free-kick. The Irishman didn’t have the best start to his career – perhaps moving from Barnsley where he was adored might have been initially a wrench. With five goals already this season though, including a hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Norwich, we are starting to see the skillset that has made him one of the most complete midfielders at this level.
Defensively there is also room for encouragement: they have the Championship’s joint-best defensive record from the last five games, conceding just two in five. John Terry has looked imperious at the back in that time and his dressing room influence is starting to come to the fore, with James Chester steadily improving alongside him.
The club have spent over £30 million on strikers since relegation to the Championship and yet the one most suited to spearheading attacks was always right under their nose in the academy.
It would be premature to say that after a good month, all the problems at Villa Park are over. They have had some luck in certain games and ninth in the second tier is not where the club aspires to be.
Indeed Bruce, who is starting to find his best eleven, had to caveat his post-match praise for his players and the club’s fans, providing a reminder that there is still a long way to go.
However, a gradual progression in performance levels at least gives the club a base from which to build better things.
New podcast episode incoming…