I rarely welcome international breaks but with so much chopping and changing at Villa Park this year this week has been a welcome respite.  However, it is hard to shake the feeling that this temporary break may stutter Villa’s current momentum.

Steve Bruce has made a huge impact on Villa’s fortunes since his arrival, that is beyond a doubt. Villa are finally on an upward trajectory and although this is a positive thing there are also several lingering issues that are yet to be resolved.

This week is the perfect opportunity to assess what the new boss has changed for the better, and what he still needs to improve to get the team firing on all cylinders.

Change is Good

The most obvious and important change that Bruce has made since his arrival is getting wins on the board. With the situation we found ourselves in little else mattered. As well as remaining unbeaten to date, Bruce has Villa picking up wins and moving up the table. Single points from games is fine on occasion but without three point hauls we were going nowhere. Thanks to the new boss, Villa fans are experiencing the joy of winning regularly for the first time in years.

Bruce has brought about a change in mentality and character within the squad. This has been a key factor in wins, and in the momentum that they have brought. ‘Losing mentality’ was becoming somewhat of a mantra in commentaries about the club’s fortunes over the last few seasons and Bruce is putting that phrase to bed.

For a painfully long time Villa have been prone to collapse at the first sign of difficulty. Under the new man, Villa are not only seeing off opponents but even coming from behind to win. That’s a far cry from conceding goals and surrendering points in the final minutes on a weekly basis. Long may it continue.

Knowing The Score

In my opinion the most comforting thing that Bruce has brought with him is a clear understanding of what’s happening on the pitch. Under Di Matteo there was no game plan and both team selections and tactics were baffling at times.

 

Bruce has had a much more balanced approach and hasn’t been afraid to leave players on the bench when necessary,  regardless of reputation or price. For the most part, Bruce has also used players in their natural positions, although with numerous attacking options and a long season there will continue to be some flexibility here.

For the first time in McGrath knows how long, Villa are also making logical substitutions. Bruce has made several substitutions that have changed games and each is made for a tactical reason, proving that Bruce is seeing the same things as the rest of us. Di Matteo, Lambert, Sherwood and the rest could learn a lot from this.

When the season kicked off Villa and it’s new recruits looked set to be on the road to recovery but the former boss failed to get the best out of key players. Now Villa’s under performers are finally showing their talents.

Jedinak has grown in stature in recent weeks, as displayed by his sublime assist for Kodjia last week. Gollini is full of confidence and Baker and Chester have looked a far more solid unit than Tommy Elphick, who just hadn’t shown the quality we hoped for. This list of improvers could go on (Amavi, Gardner, Grealish, Adomha, Kodjia), but the message is clear, Bruce is getting the best from his players.

Club Favourites

Last season there were almost no players worth getting attached to. This year there are finally a few characters at the club who may become fan heroes, and that’s what the game is all about.

One former hero who has fallen from grace is Gabby Agbonlahor. For better or worse he’s back in the squad. The local lad has been given yet another ‘second’ chance.

If he can rediscover his best form he could be a useful squad player in the Championship and can certainly help restore the teams identity. With his return comes several questions and doubts. This leads to my next points, the things that Bruce has yet to improve, or facilitate.

With Change Comes Uncertainty

It would be ridiculous to say that Steve Bruce isn’t doing a good job, but it’s early days and there are plenty of ways the team needs to improve. We are seeing the new man make his mark, several big decisions will determine the shape of the squad come the end of the season.

While Gabby’s return has been mentioned, as a potential positive it’s also hard not to feel like his presence is hindering the inclusion of some of Villa’s younger talents. Agbonlahor’s place in the squad looks set to further limit the opportunities of our brightest prospects such as Andre Green and Rushian Hepburn Murphy.

 

Even at the end of last year’s disastrous campaign the gradual emergence of these players and the likes of Toner and Lyden, showed some hope for Villa’s academy. Bruce’s preference for using experience to steady the ship is understandable, although with the team on the mend, I would personally prefer one of these future stars on the bench that Gabby.

At the end of the day, a win is a win is a win. That said, with the squad at Villa’s disposal they should really be dominating and controlling more games in this division.  At the very start of the season, Villa were in control of games and just hadn’t clicked in terms of goal scoring.

As the season went on this stopped being the case. I’ll take three points over a moral victory any day but there’s no reason it can’t be both on occasion. If Bruce can add this to his impressive start than Villa really could be in with a shout at promotion.

Early Report Card

So far so good under Bruce. A third of the way through the season and the positives are certainly outweighing the negatives. Villa are in a decent position and, provided recent form continues, have a lot to play for.

If Bruce can develop some young talent, improve Villa’s control of games, and make the right signings in January, then Villa may well be back where we belong next term. Should recent successes prove to be down to a ‘new manager bounce’, then it could still be a long season for the Villans.

Steve Bruce’s November Report Card: B+ (A Lot Done, More to Do)

What do you think Steve Bruce’s best and worst decisions have been so far? Are Villa heading for promotion? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. demented means behaving irrationally due to anger stress or excited which in my opinion people are I know luck plays a part in any season but the luck we’ve had since Bruce came to remain unbeaten is more miracle like than lucky as you say people are entitled to opinions I was just saying I think people are over excited by our few fortuitous. results so tryto understand what someone means before you try to pick fights as I’m sure this is one you will Never win as your sarcasm is. pitiful to say the least and if I offended you I apologise sincerely vtid

  2. I’ll give him a B. He’s brought definite improvement, even though we don’t dominate for 90 mins. But without going back to the 80’s, even the best Villa sided rarely dominated, we hit teams on the break! You can’t be critical of wins and a few draws. The league position’s improved, and so’s the confidence and moral. This team expects to win, that’s a big plus. I think we’re heading in the right direction for the play off’s. In addition, there’s competition for places. I don’t hold with Gabby shouldn’t be in the squad because of whatever. In form he’s an exceptionally quick player. As long as he’s turned the corner and keeps up the improvement, he’ll be an asset.

    In all honesty, when you look at the squad, we should be a lot closer to Newcastle, and if we aren’t, then they are still under performing. I expect to see us rise up this league pretty damn fast. Few teams in this division have a squad anywhere near as strong as ours.

  3. an A are you all demented only pure luck has kept Bruce unbeaten wolves no shots in 2nd half blues 6 strikers and not 1 shot on target by 50 odd million pounds worth of dross don’t make me laugh no I ain’t a bluenose just a villa fan who has seen some brilliant football from villa teams this lot would struggle to beat that shite we put out week in week out last season none we no where near the class of little,you, withe,Shaw, carrodus deeHan a it ken, cowans Morley mcmahon hodge,swain, this lot are shite grealish more wind than bluster if they finish top half this season I will bymates there season tickets till I die both of them more chance shity winning champs premier and champions league in next 3 years bollox

    • If your Dementia comment is aimed at me in particular, be careful. There is in this day and age an affinity to throw insults at anyone with a differing opinion. You will understand that (at least I hope you can comprehend):
      A: Insults are the last resort of the un-reasoned.
      B: Never argue with an idiot, people may not be able to tell the difference.

      I measure Steve not against past glory (which is by its very nature is History) but by his results with the same squad as the previous manager. A all the way.

  4. Gonna give SB an A grade. So many reasons which your good rant already highlighted, and I like him (Even though he is a Bluenose, and with a whiff of the Manure about him too). The Gabby second chance (really a first under Steve and the Owner but hey who’s counting) is genius, both because the owner showed he would cede to the manager about team selection and no bomb squad (even of 1) was allowed to continue. The mood is completely different and the come from behind win was huge for the players. Bruce should have got MoM for holistic results not just the point results. Long season, but 5 points is it until the playoff spots, second might be doable, just hafta win.

  5. For me the best thing he has done is show a lot of common sense and experience for example when we are leading with 5 minutes to go he brings on another defender.
    I think he needs to push hard to keep our best young players like RHM, and our better senior players like Jordan Amavi, I see Liverpool have been linked with him today and we need to nip that in the bud, we’ve been a selling club for too long and for everyone associated with the club especially the fans all of that needs to stop.
    Think we have an outside chance of making the play offs but we can’t afford any slip ups

    • Yes the window will be a further test of Steve Bruce, I have my ideas of what is needed and whom should depart, wonder if he’ll agree. He could lose the A.
      Wonder if Dr T will tweet that Villa Are No Longer a Selling Club. Would like the two mentioned to stay awhile as well.

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