“Every manager who managers Aston Villa is always going to come under pressure. We’ve lost one out of seven in the league, but we’re under pressure. That’s the way it is.”
There was a certain amount of deja vu about Steve Bruce’s post-match comments after the 1-1 draw away to Blackburn. It was pretty much the same situation last season. Later on in the season, Bruce would blame Villa’s poor start on compromising their end to the season.
While Bruce tries to spin this season’s start as just one loss in seven league games, the reality is Villa haven’t won any of their last six games of a fixture list that’s been pretty soft.
So, what’s the reasons to be cheerful as Villa fans, after the team managed to escape Ewood Park with a draw?
If there’s one thing Bruce has got right this season, it’s that he’s channeled the ‘Fergie Time’ power of his former Manchester United boss. Villa have gained four points from injury-time strikes from three out of their seven games.
Wigan – 94th minute winner
Brentford – 95th minute equaliser
Blackburn – 93rd minute equaliser
Without these three goals, Villa would have been just one point above the relegation zone and Bruce would be in very hot water indeed.
Now, if Bruce can just sort out the other 90 minutes, this growing injury-time resilience will serve Villa well in the rest of the season.
2. Hourihane Impact
A big contributor to Villa’s late rallying has been the introduction of Conor Hourihane onto the field of play. He set up the Wigan winner, scored the Yeovil cup winner and now rescued a point at Blackburn with the above wonder strike.
This reason could have equally been about Blackburn’s inability to build a wall. Surely there should have been another man in the wall (like their keeper was trying to organise before the kick was taken) where Bolasie was standing? You’ll notice Bolasie ducking, which also contributed to the goal.
All-in, a great strike by Hourihane, who hasn’t let his head drop despite not being in the first XI much this season.
3. Villa Charity
Steve Bruce has a big heart. Even though Villa were lacking in centre backs in their squad, he loaned out Tommy Elphick to struggling Hull City. Rather than take advantage himself of the fact Elphick had captained a Championship title-winning team before, he decided to help a team that were so poor this season, they shipped three goals at home to Villa.
Elphick in his first start for Hull was a contender for man of the match, when he helped secure a clean sheet (what’s one of those?) and a 2-0 win over Ipswich.
Villa even agreed to part payment of Elphick’s wages too.
What a nice club we are.
4. No Runaways
While Bruce’s Villa team stumble about at the start of the season, one glimpse of hope in terms of the automatic promotion places is that no Championship team is storming it, like Wolves and Newcastle did in the last two seasons.
Out of the first seven games, the highest amount of wins by any team in the division is just four.
It suggests that this season maybe a real dogfight for promotion, a situation that Villa can take advantage of if they are more positive, and to be quite frank, get their sh** together.
5. AT at centreback
MOMS telepathic powers seem to have finally worked and Bruce finally listened and decided to play Axel Tuanzebe at centre back. Granted he had a couple of shaky moments early on against Blackburn, but it’ll take the player a few games to get into the swing of things.
Tuanzebe seems to have all the attributes to do well in the position, so it was good to see Bruce finally make the switch.
Interestingly, in the quest for defensive balance, Bruce also selected Neil Taylor at left-back. It’s the right move, but whether it ends up successful is all on the player’s shoulders.
If Taylor steps ups and is consistent, then after a few games, Villa should be much improved due to players playing in their natural positions in defence.