‘the team has been like a fancy car that doesn’t have an engine’
Bruce & Hourihane Take One
In the January transfer window of the 2016/17 season, Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce finally got the man who slipped from his grasp six years ago. Conor Hourihane was playing his youth football at Sunderland due to the Irish connections Sunderland harboured back in the days of the Niall Quinn/Roy Keane axis. Bruce was in charge of the Black Cats and a certain Cork-born youngster’s contract was coming to an end during his time there. Bruce offered him a new contract, but Hourihane wanted to join his inspiration Roy Keane at Ipswich instead.
The Ipswich move didn’t exactly work out well for Hourihane, as Keane left Portman Road sharply and the young midfielder found himself surplus to requirements failing to even play a single senior game at Portman Road.
it was Plymouth that began the proper development of him as a player and then at Barnsley, Hourihane started to become the real deal, helping them get back to the Championship via the play-offs and then fully showcasing his potential as a player for the Tykes (more from MOMS on Hourihane’s background).
Steve Bruce speaking to MOMS and fellow Villans at the Fans Consultation Group this week very much sighted Hourihane as the answer to several of the current weaknesses of the Villa team.
MOMS had pointed out in the informal meeting that Villa were bottom of the pile in the Championship when it came to goals from set pieces (just three) and Bruce suggested Hourihane would very much be on freekick duty from this point forward.
More importantly, Bruce said that Hourihane, alongside Lansbury and Birkir Bjarnason, would address another issue MOMS raised, namely the current lack of running off the ball going forward to support attacks, give options and create space for teammates.
At times it’s been puzzling why Villa players have been criminally guilty of being so static at times. Bruce wasn’t messing around when he told MOMS the reason there hasn’t been much purposeful movement this season. He basically said, it was because the players aren’t capable of it!
It was refreshing and surprising to hear the manager be so frank; but aren’t they supposed to be professional footballers? It’s shocking. At least Bruce knows as supporters, we’re no fools and have noticed such things.
You got the feeling that Bruce has been in a bit of despair once he got to know the ins and outs of the squad he inherited. I don’t think the January window could have come quick enough in the respect of allowing the Villa boss to build a midfield that offered purpose, energy and verve.
When you look at the Villa squad after the summer window and consider the money that was spent, you do think, as other team’s supporters must do, that with Kodjia, McCormack, Jedinak, Adomah, Grealish, Ayew, Chester etc, that Villa should be doing much better than they are doing. Alas, it seems though that the team has been like a fancy car that doesn’t have an engine.
MOMS would also be surprised if the changes don’t address the away record and also the fact the team average less shots on target on their travels than any other team in the league.
Hourihane and co will also give the likes of Jordan Ayew and Jack Grealish a kick up the backside. Ayew, MOMS would expect to leave by the summer window, at the latest, while Grealish will have to seriously knuckle down and refine his game to be a first teamer.
If MOMS was to remember just one word that Steve Bruce said when describing the virtues of Conor Hourihane and what he could bring to the Villa team, that word would be “swagger”.
It’s been a long time since we’ve witnessed any of that coming from the Villa midfield.
* Check out an earlier MOMS post to get a good insight into Hourihane’s background
For a smarter approach to Villa’s transfer window follow MOMS on Twitter here @oldmansaid