Before a ball was kicked, Villa were favourites to win the league and even without their top scorer the marquee signing of John Terry, who had looked the part throughout pre-season, it was encouraging enough for fans to have a little flutter.
With Bruce’s old team Hull to start proceedings the scene was set for a flying start in front of the home fans and some overdue restored belief that Villa were on the up.
And then after 45 minutes or so, it went downhill faster than a Chelsea forward in the penalty area.
HULL AND BACK
Villa really took it to Hull in the first half, and would have been disappointed to only be up by a single goal. Of course, it had to be beleaguered striker Gabby Agbonlahor to net the first goal of the season – a player Bruce still stakes his reputation on especially with Kodjia out with his long-term injury.
And then in the second half, Villa looked as flat as they looked at their dullest last season.
When Hull made it 1-1 it wasn’t much of a surprise as Villa had offered nothing – all too familiar after going up a goal last season. And by the final whistle, a point was a fair result – sadly. If the intensity of the first half had been kept up, Villa would have strolled it.
It looked like the same old Villa of last season – no plan B (except for the dying minutes when Samba was thrown on as an emergency target man) and a lack of creativity and self-belief given that their newly-relegated opponents had gotten used to losing and were there for the taking.
So fans learned that the summer didn’t seem to have made much difference to the product on the field. More of the same we had endured since Bruce took over.
WE HAVE YOUTH
The Haribo (whatever) Cup game a few days later was nearly called off. The torrential rain in Colchester put the match in real doubt, but it went ahead and had some entertaining and enlightening moments for fans.
With young players like Callum O’Hare making a rare appearance – and putting in a good shift – Colchester United were surely a walkover but while the conditions played their part, United had a plan and it was working for them.
The narrow (score wise) win didn’t tell the full story. And the real encouraging part wasn’t that Villa would be in the next round but that the young players waiting for their chance had looked good.
Was there a chance we would see some of them keeping out the familiar cloggers that had looked so anonymous against Hull when Villa travelled to Cardiff for the next game?
WALES OF DESPAIR
Of course not. Gabby and the old guard were back for the trip to Cardiff and let the club down badly.
The 0-3 defeat and one shot on target was a Paul Lambert stat line.
Among the most disappointing players were Chester, Terry and Whelan – the nuts and bolts of the machine, who in theory, can let the more offensive players do their thing.
It was poor all over. Onomah’s viral video run at the City defence was probably the highlight of the afternoon. And while he was visibly upset and ponderous at where it had all gone wrong, the knives were out and being sharpened and aimed at Steve Bruce by many angry fans.
McLeish might not have stood a chance from some fans given his previous employers, but Bruce would without a doubt been forgiven and cheered if he could have got Villa back up last season – or at least playing some sharp football – regardless of playing for Manchester United AND Birmingham City.
Perhaps the hole he found the team in was too deep, but he had his transfer window, the deadwood that wanted out or that he didn’t fancy were being chipped away… yet the fresh start to the season had already been soured after just two league games.
This wasn’t just about the results. This was about poor performance, mismanagement of player positions, and a belief in his strongest XI that haven’t put in a dominant 90 minutes since he took the job.
Would he be given much longer to turn things around? Some fans are calling for his head already. Others on social media were suggesting 10 games was fair.
BYE BYE BACUNA
Oh, and Leandro Bacuna – a player who has a suspect temperament, lacks ability and doesn’t have much of a footballing brain – was sold reportedly for almost four times what we paid for him. So at least there’s that.
The game against Reading – who are a good side in this division – was a new low point.
In the first half, Villa were nothing short of awful. A new formation and new line-up spoke to some fans concerns but two right-backs on the bench created new ones.
Bruce is certainly under pressure, and with too many more first halves like that he will be off the bench and into a TV pundit’s seat. Villa
Villa were miserable. Couldn’t connect two passes, struggled to find a shot, and Reading made it look like they were toying with them.
Once Gabby chested the ball down to Hourihane to make it 2-1, an extremely unlikely equaliser was on the cards… for about three minutes.
It was a bad, bad day at the office. And a sign, as we saw under Lambert repeatedly, that there is no plan B that makes changes to the on-field performances for the better.
Follow Adam on Twitter at @keebo00