By Sam Lovell

Could Have, Should Have…

What now then?

Being a big club does not mean you should get promoted, having the largest average attendance in the league does not mean you should get promoted, and winning a certain amount of trophies in the past does not mean you should get promoted.

Assembling the most expensive Championship side ever, with proven Championship quality, PLUS players that have been promoted from the Championship before, PLUS the anomalies of a player who has won it all and still capable at Championship level along with a hugely talented local lad, means that you definitely should get promoted, never mind who the manager is. But when your manager has been promoted from the Championship four times before, with the squad he has, then you really, really should get promoted!

Yet Villa will remain in the Championship next season and Steve Bruce, I’m afraid, has failed. Such is the fickleness of football, he was only one game away from succeeding, however the future does not look too great for Villa as we stare into the dark abyss of a longer than planned stay in the Championship.

Park that Playoff Bus

Like MOMS tweeted after our result against Derby, there’s no prizes for finishing 4th. However the play-offs were Bruce’s and Villa’s potential get out of jail free card.

The players and the manager at the club were ideal for a game like the play-off final. Big game experience, leadership, knowhow and previous experience of getting promoted were all there in abundance. Added to that was the fact only a couple of Fulham players had played at Wembley before.

Yet, as we all saw, in the final against Fulham we looked bereft of ideas, especially in the first half. Lewis Grabban was far too isolated and unfortunately is not the target man you need in a strategy that focuses on trying to contain the opposition, letting them have possession and hoping Jack Grealish can create something out of nothing to win us the game.

Overall, it was too negative, too slow, too little predictable, with too many weird, desperate substitutions. Sound familiar?

Slow Start Comes Back to Haunt Bruce

Although many have rightly pointed out the Norwich, Bolton and QPR results as being key to us not finishing in the top two, it was our start to the season that was perhaps more detrimental to our failure as we won only one of our opening seven league games.

Like many other fans, I was baffled by such a poor performance against Cardiff away in only the second game of the season. Coming out of the ground, the words of one Villa fan stuck in my mind. “44 more games, we’ve got 44 more games, we can still do this!”

I thought he was right.

It turns out he was wrong in more than one way. We actually had 47 more games and we didn’t do it.

Puzzling Selections

A week before the Cardiff game, Bruce made the peculiar decision to play Gabby Agbonlahor ahead of our eventual top scorer Albert Adomah against Hull in the opening game of the season. As well as that, even any Conor Hourihane skeptic would have been confused to see Leandro Bacuna on the team sheet ahead of him against Hull, particularly as he was shipped off to Reading a week later and Hourihane scored a hat-trick against Norwich a week after that. It seems we started the season with Bruce not knowing who his best players were and it proved to be quite costly.

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Other discoveries throughout the season were mainly because of luck. Andre Green’s injury presented Adomah his opportunity on the left-hand side of midfield and Glenn Whelan’s injury against Nottingham Forest saw Birkir Bjarnason perform well in a holding role.

Then there’s the lack of plan B, which was exemplified in the Fulham game. Moreover the plan B seems to be to chuck on as many strikers as possible, a strategy I can’t recall that has ever worked for Villa and one that smacks of desperation.

And if we’re being really critical then some proactive management would have helped this season. For instance beating Wolves 4-1, then playing the same team against QPR three days later springs to mind (Bjarnason was chomping at the bit to play, as we saw when he came on against Wolves), as does beating Reading 3-0 then the same team performing terribly against Norwich three days after that.

We had a good enough squad to rotate for such games this season, especially as we played two games a week. I’m not sure if the same can be said of our squad depth next season.

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Time for Youth?

That being said, all we need for next season is a style of play that doesn’t involve fearing the opposition, a new goalkeeper, two-three new centre backs, a back up left back (presuming Taylor is first choice), a new winger, a central midfielder and for James Chester and Jack Grealish to stay at the club.

Also Keinan Davis, Andre Green, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Callum O’Hare will surely be given the chance to exhibit the talent they clearly have next year and it’d be nice if James Bree was given a real chance considering we spent around £2million on him.

There have also been mentions of Jake Doyle-Hayes, Mitch Clark and Corey Blackett-Taylor, all being promoted to the first team after making their debuts in the past season or so. It’ll also be interesting to see if Jacob Bedeau and Easah Suliman make the step up to the first team. Bedeau made 7 league appearances for Bury in the 2016/17 season before moving to our U23 side and Suliman has been involved with England from U16 to U20 level, scoring in the EURO U19 final last year, yet failed to make an impression in loan spells for Cheltenham and Grimsby.

Expectations have to be tempered. The current U23 team is only a second tier outfit. Look what happened to the NextGen winning vintage of 2013, who were the toast of Europe. They are proof that there’s a big jump from youth football hype to senior first team reality. Grealish, Samir Carruthers (Sheffield United) and Callum Robinson (Preston) are Championship players, the rest ply their trade in the lower regions of football.

Either way there are big question marks as to whether Bruce is the person to get the best out of youth or whether he’ll even give them a chance. It was poetic justice that Tom Cairney, a player Bruce let go of whilst at Hull, scored the winner for Fulham in the play-off final. He’ll now be captain of a Premier League club next season.

There is an obvious split amongst Villa supporters as to Bruce’s future. After all football is a game of opinions and that’s what it’s all about. But how should we not be finishing in the top two? How can remaining in the Championship be considered a successful season?

It’s going to be a long and interesting summer.

Please stay Jack.

UTV

These supporter opinion pieces are not necessarily the views of My Old Man Said

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16 COMMENTS

  1. One comment above was first game of season Bruce did not know who is best 11 was. Well 46 games and 3 play off later, the same applies. Yet again on a must win game one striker , then when it fails throw 3 on!! Don’t panic! Sorry but had we gone up great manager, but we didn’t so crap manager. Bruce is definately not the man for next season. Looks like we may be looking at a new owner too. We keep allowing successive managers to throw away what we have and spend loads more on new ones. This leaves the manager with far too many choices. Umpteen players on silly wages who won’t play and a bad influence on the rest. Grealish all the loan players and maybe chester will be gone because we have to pay mccormack, hogan, Jedinack whelan lasnsbury Richards still, and the 8 useless gits coming back from loan. I fear for us next season. However, on paper even with departures we will have a huge squad of previously good players. Maybe a new management set up can get us in play offs and win. Top 2 will be impossible. Bruce is not the man for next season.

  2. Bruce had all the attributes to get us up at the start of the season. As the season has gone on his style has looked dated, predictable and more hopeful than expectant. A new manager is needed to bring about a more attack minded ethos, along with unleashing the youth. JG has gone. would like to see him at Bournemouth, Leicester, even Southampton – somewhere they point forward, not back. Best we can hope for is he goes to a top 6 team and gets loaned back to us.

  3. Quiz Time: Name the Club

    * Manager doesn’t know whether he’s staying or going
    * Star player could leave over the summer
    * Money and the good times could be coming to an end
    * Owner lives overseas and is saying nothing

    Villa?

    Nope. Chelsea. Shame,eh?

  4. Ultimately Bruce has failed and has to go. Whatever plan there was when he was brought in is going to have to change radically to fit the new circumstances and he is the wrong man for the job.

  5. Several times this season I have wondered who our management team was talking to in the background, which inspirational manager/leader /coach was being lined up to take over from the disaster area at the helm. As we trudged away from Wembley I expected Bruce to do the honourable thing and fall on his sword. When it became apparent that he wanted to torture us for another year I expected that all that background planning from our super-switched on, much better than the amateur-hour dross that went before management team would announce his departure and reveal the brilliant new coach who would develop our kids, confound the opposition with his superb tactics, dazzle us with super silky intelligent football.

    Nope. Ain’t happening. Did they really spend the whole season twiddling their thumbs and crossing their fingers. Did FFS Play not cross their little minds just once? It is surely beginning to look like it.

    Someone posted that Brucie has 60% on the Mail vote – I guess every Nose in history is doing their best to keep the joke going, agent McCleish did well but agent Brucie is playing a blinder.

  6. disappointing that sack the manager still gets 40% response in the mail and support on this site. We have not had any success with sacking managers since O’Neill walked out, and its a knee jerk reaction. Bruce failed once. He had four successes in promotion from this division. Show us a manager who is guaranteed promotion. Bruce needs another year, and if you want jack to stay, back bruce who has already asked him to give one more year. Or do you think ANOTHER who has no track record at all can play the loyalty card.

    Leeds are getting people jealous for thinking of appointing a big name. So wonderful, an example. Five SEASONS a new manager every august. And how successful has that been?

    Bruce to stay for another season, Xia to learn how to run a football club. I back both men for the next year.

    Trevor fisher

    • Bruce – I think it’s a question of is there a better option and when do the board want to actually start building the club’s long-term identity (aka ‘The Villa Engine’) – sometimes it’s easier to build in the lower leagues, for example, like Swansea, Southampton, Burnley, Leicester and Brighton have done. Bruce was aiming for the play-offs in his first season (he managed it with the Blues with less time and with them in poor shape), so that was actually strike one. Still, most supporters had patience with him to give him a proper shot.

      This season just gone (strike two) is the best chance he’ll get in terms of squad quality – that’s the concern I think with most fans.

      Track records, promotion experience etc don’t really mean a thing, if a manager actually knows what they are doing, just look at the recent examples of Wolves, Huddersfield and Newcastle (Raffa had never been in the Championship). Swansea, Burnley (the first time) & Bournemouth were all promoted by managers without previous promotion experience. There’s more.

      If they can’t find better than Bruce, then so be it. But at the moment we’re treading water in a swamp.

    • trev,,,,, bruce has been in charge for almost two seasons,, and the club still has so many players that need to be moved on even if ffp was not an issue,, and at times bruce has been clueless and made some bad choices ,,,, but he nearly got us up,, and if it was not for injuries we would have gone up,,, but we probably would have struggled where as fulham and wolves i think will be ok
      so despite my wanting him gone i actually think if grealish stays and we can get kodja firing again we will can be in the promotion hunt but it will be difficult as i expect several teams to be better next season and
      i think the 3 coming down will also be in with a shout,,,
      the positives to me are that bruce knows the squad now,,, he also is not afraid to use kids ,,,, as onoma tunzebe grealish gardner davis bree and green has shown and im sure we will see more of rhm and lyden and ohare next season,,,
      but the biggest thing is we could go into next season with agnew from the start,,, and a pre season for kodja
      to get back to his best,,, and maby we can get richards back to being a decent right back or center back
      bruce will know what we need,, and if we can shift some of the dead wood then hopefully we can keep to ffp limits,, but we all know that selling grealish and selling a few from elphick mccormack hogan de laet taylor gollini gil lansbury gardner tishibola would bring the wages bill down considerably added that hutton samba terry gabby johnstone snoddy grabban onoma and tunzebe are off the books already
      if bruce can get us to be more effective then he is worth keeping as we would be there abouts
      we are in need of a striker who can hold the ball up and score,,, and we must look at a center back and a
      left back
      if grealish is sacrificed bizarrely we could be a better side than last season,,, we could bring back grabban, get hernandez and nick powell, and loan what we need
      but we need to decide soon which way to go,,,, and with a possible 20 players off the books and maby 40 mill it to keep the club running for another season and strengthen wisely to supplement kodja jedi adoma green hourihane bree chester elmo whelan benny b steer bunn davis rhm lyden and some of the other kids,,
      it could be we could be much stronger next season right from the start,
      there are so many possibilities,,,, but we must decide soon the path and strategy we take
      it might be short termism for another season,, with an eye to austerity,,,

  7. Grieved…….. with the mentality of poor management appointments, no identity .
    for a Club like AV. We’ve been down this road to often .Xia must sack Bruce and get
    a top quality coach from Europe. Nuno ,Joka (Fulham) make Bruce lookvery dated.
    How they fell for his bankrupt ideas is shocking. A good coach would have sorted this
    Out with ease and confidence, Bruce is all one dimensional and lost in his own past.
    Xia,Wyness wake up.the silence is definitely screaming change NOW

    • warnock took cardiff up,, derby middlesboro both had old style managers,, only fulham and wolves played
      decent football,, the truth is injuries cost us dear plus after agnew came in we are better despite some poor performances which all teams have
      we all want to see good football and i think if we played 20 percent better for most games we would all be much happier,,,
      but,,,,,,, if we want to stay in the prem we need to be far better in certain areas ,, lots of teams play counter attacking football and some are great to watch
      we just need to be better at what we do,,, better faster defenders with full backs who can cross and get forward easily,, creativity from midfield,, and if we play long ball at times do it in a way thats effective
      not to a midget or an isolated striker who cant hold it up,,,
      im happy for bruce to go,,,, but im not stupid enough to realize that this squad cant be improved,,
      and that if grealish and some underperformers are moved on then we could find that bruce can build a stronger side for his tactics and that would put us in a very strong position
      im optimistic for next season,,,, i like dean smith and chris wilder,, even gary johnstone,,,,
      but who would be best for us,,,, i certainly think smith would get hogan and hourihane playing better
      big decisions for those in charge,,,

  8. The play-off final was a microcosm of the entire season. Over-cautious, negative tactics, more concerned about the opposition than about imposing our own talents on the game. Then displaying an inability to change the game when things go wrong, hoping that throwing on substitutes, any substitutes, might rescue things. Witnessed it so many times in the last twelve months.

    Bruce has had twenty months, three transfer windows, and a budget and facilities most other Championship clubs envy. But he has failed. There will be a split among supporters over whether Bruce should be allowed another chance. Stability breeds success will be the mantra of those who want him to stay. But it is actually success that breeds stability.

    The owner has clearly intimated things must change. That is no surprise. We can no longer spend big money on transfers and salary poaching top performing Championship players from other clubs. Whoever is responsible for the squad, team selection, and tactics will need to have a completely different attitude. A mostly young team, integrating our own promising youngsters alongside some existing experience, playing expansive football, imposing our style (the Villa engine anybody?) on opponents is the way forward. I have no confidence Bruce is the person to do that.

  9. Good article and I agree with the comments, if Bruce failed so miserably with that squad as far as I’m concerned we’ve got no chance if he stays, so for me he has to go, we’re forced to go again so let’s do it with a new manager, and yes keep Grealish for another season at least and build the team around him.

  10. there’s also a young socceroo , called Lyden , who seems to have made it onto the 1st team list and if he can stay fit could be a replacement for his International team captain !

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