Most of us know the exact point when Villa’s push for automatic promotion fell apart last season. After a physically and mentally draining 4-1 derby win against Wolves, Villa were playing a rearranged game at Villa Park a days later, before a trip up to Bolton at the weekend.
Bruce kept the same Wolves XI for what should have been a routine win against QPR, but after a big win, it’s sometimes hard for players to get mentally psyched up again.
Bruce said it himself.
“From experience, I always feared it might be ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ following the weekend,” reflected Bruce, after the QPR game.
“I toyed and toyed with changing it, making five or six changes, and in hindsight, I should have done.”
Villa were 2-0 down against QPR with barely half-an-hour gone. An obvious change would have been Bjarnason in for Jedinak, who’s no spring chicken now. That would have rested Jedinak for the trip to Bolton, a game in snowy conditions that Bruce then rested the Australian for, when his physicality would have helped Villa big time in the game.
Maybe starting Keinan Davis in the Bolton snow and going more direct would have helped. If he had played Jedinak and Davis in such conditions, it would have helped at set plays too.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but judging from Bruce’s comments after those games last season, and after the Wigan game, it’s something he’s obviously been kicking himself about.
“One thing I did do last year was I didn’t think I used the squad well enough at times,” said Bruce, explaining his six changes from the Hull game for the Wigan game.
“I know it’s still early but we’ve got eight games coming up and to get up and running the squad needs to get games under their belt.”
Seeing Mile Jedinak come in for Tommy Elphick, who had a decent enough game against Hull, alongside Chester, seemed to be a change for change’s sake though. With a new keeper coming in, surely having a settled Chester and Elphick combination in front of Nyland would have been the more sensible choice? The two had also played some preseason games together at the back.
“It’s pretty drastic – you could have come in and slaughtered me if it hadn’t worked,” reflected Bruce.
“I’m okay for the moment because we won, but it was a big call because it’s not me.
“I just felt against Wigan we needed to be stronger, and a bit more direct than what we were the other night.”
Question of Jedinak?
Maybe Bruce has learnt from the Bolton game of last season, when Villa could have benefited from more of a physical presence? And that’s why he felt Jedinak was a better option considering Wigan’s set piece threat from their two big centre backs, Cheyenne Dunkley and Cedric Kipre? After all, Jedinak had been a colossus last season in terms of headers won, something the stats backed up every game.
If Bruce is trying to evolve and learn from his mistakes with this Villa team, he will surely think about Jedinak at centre-back though. After the game, Bruce seemed to brush off Jedinak’s poor back pass that led to Wigan’s equaliser, despite it being a carbon copy of one he contributed to Villa blowing a 2-0 lead against Sheffield United last season to draw 2-2.
“It’s a mistake, but one that Mile will forget and he did forget it,” said Bruce.
MOMS was hoping the Aussie would remember it, like he should have remembered the incident against Sheffield United, which might have prevented this Wigan one.
Advantages Over Last Season
It’s going to be an interesting few weeks to see if Bruce has transcended some of his previous thinking and mistakes.
Last season, Bruce had the individuals, with the likes of Robert Snodgrass, John Terry, Albert Adomah and Lewis Grabban, to maybe get the promotion job done, but ultimately he relied too much on them without the context of a team plan.
This season there seems to be more of a team ethic already showing, after two comeback wins showed decent resilience and improved attacking play.
It’s early days yet, but from the look of Grealish and McGinn in the middle of the park, Villa this time round have something they never had last season, a real heart to the team.
It’s now up to Bruce to build a body around this Villa heart to sustain it and allow it to beat freely. And this may mean ditching some of the conservatism that has hindered his decisions in the past.