By Richard Wakefield
The solitary point against Wolves on Saturday night was a wake up call for Villa and newly appointed manager Steve Bruce as Villa climbed out of the Championship relegation zone. With no wins in ten matches, Aston Villa may start to be looking over their shoulder a lot more than they expected.
Steve Bruce hopes to stop the rot as Villa travel down south to Reading where the hosts are unbeaten at the Madejski Stadium all season. With an extra day of training with the squad, Steve Bruce may have clearer picture of who will be donning the claret and blue strip on Tuesday night in an attempt to derail Jaap Stam’s men.
Here’s three ways of making sure it happens…
3 Clean Slate
When the phrases ‘Give everybody a chance’ and ‘clean slate’ are banded around the Villa fans, immediately players such as Gabby Agbonlahor and Micah Richards come to mind. However, the start Roberto Di Matteo has given Villa is nothing short of disastrous and there are only a handful of players like Kodjia, Chester and McCormack who are certified starters in the team. Other signings like Jedinak and Elphick have unfortunately not met the expectations that the Villa fans set for them.
Steve Bruce’s main problem will be instilling a work ethic and tactics that will thrive in the Championship using players that he did not personally sign. Therefore, giving every player, new and old, a fair chance to break into the first team would add some much needed urgency to the player’s performances as they realise the competition for places is as intense as ever.
2 Tactics 101
An unbeaten home record is a feat any Championship club would be proud of at this point in the season (unless most of your matches have been draws!) and Reading don’t look ready to pick up their first loss yet.
With Reading’s gamble on Jaap Stam looking like it’s paying off, three clean sheets at home suggest that Stam is getting his message across to his players effectively making Reading a tough unit to break down.
However, due to the focus on defending, despite Birmingham being the only team to keep a clean sheet at the Madjeski, Reading are not blessed with goal scoring options. With the goals being split between players such as McCleary, Kermogant and Swift, an exact goal scoring threat is hard to point out; especially as a huge 9 out of 13 goals have been scored from either set pieces or penalties.
An average possession stat of 58% show that Villa may not have a lot of the ball on Tuesday, but this is where Bruce should thrive in telling his players to soak up the pressure and hit Reading on the counter attack. With players such as Kodjia and Adomah possessing the pace necessary to execute an effective counter attack, Villa could have a good chance of breaking the stubborn Royals rear guard.
1 Royal Complacency
Has the shine of playing Aston Villa worn off already? With Reading sitting just one point behind the play-off spots, Villa go in to this match as the underdog.
A big worry for Villa going in to this season was many teams using their matches against Villa as having a cup final type atmosphere. However with Reading flying high and Villa continuing to sink, the Royals may become a little complacent during the match.
It has become all the more obvious that there is a serious fitness and/or mentality problem when it comes to Villa’s second half performances. This was backed up by Brentford’s Scott Hogan’s interview last week, where he mentioned how even the opposition are beginning to capitalise on the weakness of Villa’s players during the latter stages of the game.
With weakened body language and worries of making any mistakes rushing through their minds, it’s easy to see why Villa have conceded so many goals late on. Although, all footballers at this level have to face the same issues.
The Villa players along with Steve Bruce need to have a long talk about how they can use this negative stigma to their advantage. Catching Reading off guard and not crumbling towards the end of the match and becoming re-energised instead, could throw off the game plan Jaap Stam has planned.
Follow Richard Wakefield on Twitter at @_RichardAVFC