High expectations turned to despair, winding up with some optimism for the first time in some time. What did we as Villa fans learn from the first third of the 2016-17 season?
NOBODY EVER SAID IT WOULD BE THIS HARD
Rotherham game aside, Villa struggled to get going in the first weeks of the season. The Sheffield Wednesday game, rational minds will tell you, was too early to see the spectacular change fans were looking for (that said, in the same fixture Ron Atkinson’s completely overhauled team won 3-2 and looked awesome after an awful season… but that’s ancient history).
The cup result would be easy to dismiss as “one of those things” but Villa were second best to Luton. Disappointing late surrenders to turn wins into draws frustrated fans along with strange substitutions by manager Roberto Di Ford Mondeo.
By the time of his dismissal after the 2-0 loss against Preston NE, even the most optimistic fans must have felt deep down that perhaps their team was a hopeless cause. A big name manager and a blank check book and still the same old results – while a lot of fans expecting promotion by Christmas and conga lines around the Bullring. Nobody expected more of the same old crap.
The fact that former Manchester United player, Blues player/manager and Mr Potatohead’s stunt double in “Toy Story”, Steve Bruce was being heralded as Villa’s saviour wasn’t warmly received by all sides. Yes, the numbers were in his favour but fans struggled (and some still do – he’s had a nice start but a lot to prove) to warm to him.
Then the wins started.
Bruce was jovial. Said all the right things. Took Villa to St Andrews and gave their biggest rivals a scare even if they were second best on the day. He looks like he has a settled best XI in his mind – something very few managers since John Gregory can say.
While the war-chest is probably down to its last few dubloons, the January window might yet provide the moves that gel the team and prepare them for a crack at the promotion belt yet. Even with his Blues ties, Bruce could soon be getting very used to hearing the highest of praise from the Villa fans.
A TALE OF TWO FORWARDS
Ross McCormack arrived as Villa’s potential saviour with his enviable goalscoring record in the Championship. Yes, 12m quid for a 30-year-old was a bit of a gamble but he was a trusted forward, proven at this level. A leader in a squad lacking responsibility and hitting the back pages for the lack of discipline.
Sadly, fans are still waiting to see the best of him. While “what a waste of money” chants would be premature, and he’s had his injury worries, he’s not hit his stride yet and there’s strikers ahead of him in pecking order. That said, fans would have killed for a forward who could score two goals in six league games a season or two ago!
The Ivorian striker Johnathan Kodjia arrived with a big price tag around his neck and some incredulous Bristol City fans laughing at Villa for going big on their striker. With six goals in 11 league games, looks like the gamble paid off. A genuinely exciting player, he’s one of a handful who looks like he could hold his own in the top flight and if he keeps finding the back of the net, his shirt will be the top-seller this Christmas.
Villa fans will always love their forwards: Withe for obvious reasons, Saunders and Atkinson for their partnership and flair, Carew for his passion, Heskey… well, maybe not everyone appreciated him… But if JK is the man to get Villa back up and out of this scrappy division, he will be spoken of using the L-word (legend) for years to come.
Is promotion possible this season? Sure, why not? But with the playoffs the most likely escape route, fans will be understanding if it might take one more year to dig up and out. Fingers will be pointing at Di Matteo with good reason. His Lambert-esque “we go again” attitude, after spending an incredible amount of Dr X’s cash, rubbed fans the wrong way from the get-go, particularly after all those draws.
Bruce’s first job is the steady the ship. He should put his arm around the players who need a boost and challenge those who thrive on being dared to do better. To avoid being one of those teams that goes up and down like a ******** (DELETED ON LEGAL ADVICE), he needs to build a team foundation and identity. Something that will serve the club not just for the rest of this season in this wretched division, but one that’ll carry Villa into the promised land to stay, and not just for a holiday.
Follow Adam Keeble on Twitter @keebo00
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