Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce throughout his managerial career has often been fond of using the analogy that it doesn’t matter where you are in the table in the early part of the season, but where you are when the “daffodils come up.”
After an unsatisfactory end to the summer for Villa though, Bruce will be wise to focus on the Autumn season, because a brutal forthcoming winter of fixtures could derail Villa’s promotion prospects and lead to the Villa boss not being around to see the snow thaw, never mind any flowers coming through in the spring.
Currently 12th in the Championship table on nine points, Villa are only three points better off from last season, the start of which Bruce attributed as one of the reasons Villa missed out on the automatic promotion spots. The bigger concern is that performance wise, Villa still don’t seem to have any method to their play under Bruce. They seemed to have actually regressed from last season, as they lack cutting edge and are also shipping goals.
Bruce has Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolasie to throw into the mix and both players should be effective at this level. The only question mark though is whether Bruce has the tactical nous to get the best out of them.
There are many questions to how they’ll line up, but we’ll save that for a later date.
A bigger concern is the defence, as the squad only having one recognised centre back in its ranks (a fact that actually makes MOMS angry in terms of squad building). It’s no wonder they’ve shipped 11 goals in just six games. It may end up being Bruce’s downfall.
Villa had a decent clean sheet record last season, with Sam Johnstone keeping 22 of them, with the settled centre back pairing of James Chester and John Terry pivotal to that stat.
Currently, looking at Bruce’s team, it’s hard to find any noticeable traits to suggest they have the potential of being a promotion bound team. Hopefully, that can be put right pronto.
Villa’s fixture list for this season had offered up a soft start, with Villa not scheduled to face any team that finished in the Top 8 last season or any of the relegated Premier League teams, until October.
The months of October and November then offer up a mixed bag of fixtures, but December offers up six games – the three former Premier League teams, the current top two in Leeds and Middlesbrough, plus a tricky trip to Preston.
Bruce nearly came unstuck over the last Christmas period and he even admitted he was one game away from the sack. Unless he finally sorts out the team’s attacking threat to win the more routine games and compensate for defensive weakness until the January window, then both he and Villa may suffer a very bleak winter.
With the new majority owners patience likely to be thin, if Bruce manages to get through this winter though, then it would suggest he’d have drastically turned around the team’s fortunes and we’ll be comfortably in the top six heading into 2019 on a positive footing.
Villa’s December Fixtures
1: Middlesbrough (a) 3pm
8: West Bromwich Albion (a) 3pm
15: Stoke City (h) 3pm
22: Leeds United (h) 3pm
26: Swansea City (a) 3pm
29: Preston North End (a) 3pm