‘We can’t keep signing players and then ignore the strengths that made them stand out at their previous clubs.’
By Paul Abdale
Fat Camps and Faulty Gates.
That would make a great title for a book if someone cared to pore over the misery and frustration of the last two seasons.
It’s not just that the football has been bad – and it really has – but we’ve become a soap opera.
The “circus in the town”, well that’s us.
Steve Bruce must be praying for a campaign free from drama. No trips to player’s houses, no questions about Jack Grealish on a night out, no more talk about Gabby’s weight.
Just a run-of-the-mill season where we become boring off the pitch.
Which would be ironic because we’ve become dull on it.
A lack of goals, a lack of intensity and a lack of excitement.
No team managed by Bruce will ever get promoted playing free-flowing, we’ll-score-more-than-you football.
But as the Geordie finishes playing golf with everyone’s favourite new defender, then finding a solution to our disjointed attacking play must be his next priority.
Our goal-scoring at home was average, 33 in 23 games. The 11th best in the league. We found the net in 22 of 23 home games, never scoring more than three.
But away from Villa Park we failed to show up.
The fans set their sat-navs for Ninian Park and Oakwell but the players got lost.
If we thought our last season in the Premier League was the end of us propping up tables, well think again.
We were the lowest scorers away from home. A rousing 14 goals. FOURTEEN. In. The. Championship.
Three less than bottom-of-the-table Rotherham and six less than our delightful city rivals.
In our relegation season we scored 13 in 19 on our travels – 0.68 per game. Last season it was 14 in 23 – 0.6 per game.
Yes, that’s right. A relegation season that featured arse-tweeters, shisa pipes, dire attitudes and horrific football.
Poor signings, 17 points, record defeats, protests and walks outs.
Well away from home our attacking play was even worse than that. Yet that’s still not the worst bit.
Because when it came to scoring goals in open play, the part where we’re actually supposed to create and take chances, Villa were bottom (again) with eight.
Eight goals from open play in 2,070 minutes.
Eight goals from a team that brought in Kodjia, McCormack and Hogan.
Eight goals from a team that features a midfield with Grealish, Adomah and Hourihane.
We spent £35million on three strikers and somehow managed fewer goals against weaker opposition. Only Villa.
It’s no surprise that Kodjia was our top scorer away from home with five. Grealish next with two. Players who can create something out of nothing which appeared to be the only way we would find the net.
Despite our travel sickness the bookies make us favourites to go up. Over the last four seasons in the Championship the lowest goals and points for automatic promotion was second-placed Middlesbrough in 2016 – 63 goals and 89 points.
Last season we totalled 47 goals and 62 points. So the minimum we need to avoid the play-offs is close to another 30 points and 20 goals. That’s a little bit more than a slight tweak to the squad.
In this summer’s market we clearly need a keeper, cover at left-back, cover for Jedinak and a left winger.
But, more importantly, we need to find a better way of utilising the players we’ve already got.
It can’t always be about dipping further into Dr Tony’s wallet.
We can’t keep signing players and then ignore the strengths that made them stand out at their previous clubs.
At Brentford, Hogan thrived on early crosses and quick through-balls. We lump the ball up to him with no support leaving him looking like me when the wife says, “fancy watching Love Island?”
Whatever way Bruce finds of improving the team, the perfect test will come in our first away game – Ninian Park and Neil Warnock.
A hostile, in-your-face-let’s-see-what-you’ve-got-this-season kind of match. A fixture which largely summed up our away performances last season: lethargic, concede scrappy goal, lose.
If, with a couple of new players and a more dynamic approach, we can pull out a performance and result in Wales, then we really will be in with a chance.
If we revert to the away displays of last season then we’ll be as stuck as those faulty gates.
Make sure you follow Paul on Twitter here – @paulabdale