Steve Bruce started his tenure at Villa Park with a point, despite the best effort of both sides. Credit to Wolves for their relentless pursuit of the win, but Villa were their own worst enemy. If the size of the new managers task wasn’t clear before today, it certainly is now.
Judging The New Man
Villa need wins but it would be unfair to put to direct any real negativity on the new man who has only been at the club a few days. Bruce did what we all wanted, adopted recognisable tactics and played players in their natural positions, something Di Matteo seemed incapable of at times.
Unlike in previous weeks, the team didn’t simply consist of every striker on the club’s books. Following some of today’s performances I would expect to see changes over the next few games but Bruce will need more time to assess the squad.
No doubt if his hand was not forced by injuries Hutton, Baker, and Westwood would not have been the changes he would have been making to change the game.
Today’s failures were the players, not the manager. That said, he needs to find a way to get through to them, something most of his recent predecessors (and there have been a few) have failed to do. Seemingly the recently departed Di Matteo also failed to get the team into proper shape as new man Bruce admitted to being surprised at the low level of fitness within the squad. Whether that is true or not, Bruce has so much to do.
The Players and the basics?
Bruce got the basics right in terms of tactics and selection but it is apparent that the players too need a lesson in getting the basics right.
Villa on Saturday seemed incapable of even the most simple passing at times with our defence particularly liable for conceding possession on several occasions. Rather than concentrating and focusing on doing the simple things right Villa sporadically switched to hopeless 50-yard Hollywood passes to nowhere. If you can’t play a 10-yard pass to a teammate it’s unlikely you’re going to nail long-range precision distribution.
Players simply having the jitters under pressure and low morale is almost understandable but the failure of the team to even realise the pressure is on is unacceptable.
As the game drew closer to an end the players seemed more than content to hold out for a draw than to even think about three points. This was more evident than ever when Wolves conceded a corner as the clock switched to injury time. On the sideline Steve Bruce was gesticulating wildly, willing the players on for the win. On the pitch the level of urgency couldn’t have been less apparent. Players adjusted their socks and discussed who wanted to take the corner. The team seems oblivious to the fact that they are 20th in the second tier.
Obviously it won’t happen but these players need to earn their wages and withholding payment until they do so might be the only way to get through to them. Clearly managers losing their jobs, weekly humiliation, and booing from the fans have failed to do so.
When the going gets tough this team seems to veer towards an escape route. Richards and Chester were both close to gifting another penalty to the opposition to see off the game. Chester was then lucky to avoid red for another clumsy challenge.
At the other end of the pitch, we’re lucky we have some depth, as at the rate Ross McCormack picks up cards, he’ll be missing for quite a few games this season.
What to do?
Considering Villa spent upwards of 50 million it’s worrying that we’re already thinking that January can’t come soon enough. Already on the wants list is the need to add both strength and depth to midfield. Ashley Westwood supposedly replaced the equally ineffectual and seemingly jet lagged Jedinak on Saturday, but I fail to remember any influence he had on the game whatsoever. The fact the Westwood is one of the only options as a second midfielder may go some way to explaining RDM opting for only one midfielder prior to his dismissal.
I alluded to the number of strikers at the club earlier but the new chief must act quickly to find the best partnership. I would usually argue that Kodjia and McCormack are the logical choice but they showed little chemistry at the weekend. Ayew too has struggled to find the frequency of any other Villa striker. It’s looking more like there may be a role for big Rudy after all, especially if the other more skilful forwards fail to gel in a front two.
For large spells the ‘team’ looked like they had never played together before and Bruce will have to create a more united mentality if there is any hope of a resurgence. Hopefully he remembers how to use a hairdryer in the style of his one-time boss Alex Ferguson.
His first game can be put down to little preparation time and stopping the rot, but the league table is beginning to take shape and the derby is a month away. Bruce will want to make a name for himself at Villa but has a lot of work to do with this squad.
With the Blues on the horizon Villa must start packing a punch. Another bad result in our next game really would be bad Reading.
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