Time to Wake Up
After the Norwich City loss Steve Bruce wasn’t happy.
‘Make no mistake there’ll be changes for the weekend,” he said. “I won’t put up with performances like that’.
The thing is though, Norwich was not a poor performance in isolation. Wigan was a terrible performance, glossed over due to Grealish’s late strike. Leeds before that was woeful too. In fact every game this season, bar the Rotherham game, has been something of a grind to watch.
MOMS was optimistic in terms of promotion this season until this week. Yes, the performances weren’t impressive under Bruce, but he’d made Villa hard to beat, instilled resolve and sorted out the defence. We just needed for him to realise he just had to play his 20-goal-a-season strikers in their proper positions, drop this Gabby nonsense and buy a decent midfielder in the January window.
There’s a few pundit clichés for the Championship, that it’s a “one of the toughest leagues in the world” and an “unforgiving league”, but most teams haven’t spent the money Villa have on new players in the past two seasons – over £100 million.
Pound for pound, quite literally, Villa has one of the best squads in the Championship, but the players are not playing anywhere near such a billing.
We also have a manager that is heralded as a master of promotion in the Championship, with four promotions to his name.
Pretty much everything is in place and even the supporters are still turning up, despite the lack of decent football in recent years at Villa Park.
A season in the Championship for consolidation was never really in the equation, nor should it have been. Tony Xia and his board expected promotion this season, as did most of the players (although they failed to realise you have to earn it first). If promotion came a season later, it wouldn’t be a disaster, but it certainly would be an inconvenience.
Villa don’t need a season of consolidation, they just need to get their act together. Others have.
Wally With a Brolly
Despite a poor start to the campaign during the time that saw Roberto Di Matteo sacked, Villa were above both Leeds and Derby, who made even more woeful starts. Look at the league table now though, after 21 games, both Leeds and Derby are in the play-off places.
When Di Matteo was sacked by Villa, supporters went through their almost annual sweat as newspaper rumours of Steve McClaren being a potential candidate surfaced yet again. But with Nigel Pearson also being sacked at Derby around the same time, McClaren ended up at the Rams.
Fast-forward to the present day and the often ridiculed McClaren, has completely turned around Derby’s fortunes. Not only do Derby now sit comfortably in the play-offs spots, they have won their last seven games. Yes, seven games. McClaren has almost pulled that feat off virtually unnoticed.
If you were a manager, wouldn’t you have preferred to arrive at Villa instead of Derby, when looking at both clubs in October and the club’s respective resources.
That shows there are no excuses for Villa under-performing, they should be doing better. If you need another example of how it can be done, look at Gary Monk performing a similar resurrection with the Leeds team despite a volatile ownership situation.
Imagine if Bruce had racked up seven wins on the trot at Villa, some Villa fans would have already tattooed ‘LEGEND’ on his forehead.
The reality is Bruce hasn’t turned this club around yet, like McClaren has done across the Midlands. It’s not out of the question that if Di Matteo had stayed on, he would have got some of the same Villa results anyway; as some games like Fulham and Wigan were decided on individual brilliance.
Three of the five wins under Bruce have come against teams currently in the bottom six with all these results achieved through a disjointed team performance and struggle.
The most notable win was away against Reading, but when Villa have played other legit promotion candidates – Norwich City, Brighton, Leeds and Birmingham City – and they’ve failed to win.
Villa are currently ninth in the current form league (last six games), which isn’t promotion form when you’re already in the lower half of the division. Also, one away win in 16 months will not get the club promoted, no matter how many wins they scrape at Villa Park.
To quote another over-used football cliché, certainly ‘returning to the basics’ will help the team finally find its identity. If Bruce plays our best players in their proper positions, the rest will follow. An intelligent January transfer window to find the cogs that will make the whole team work – a driving midfielder, for starters – and Villa surely can only go upwards (and forwards!).
Some Villa fans seem to be in a coma of dumbed down expectation and seem more interested in staged videos of the chairman showing ‘passion’.
He’s excited as one of Villa’s newest fans, but he’ll also be pragmatic considering what is at stake. He will know in terms of both his short and long-term plans for the club, that Bruce’s honeymoon period is over.
Compared to what McClaren has done at Derby, it was a honeymoon in Skegness rather than anywhere exotic.