By Richard Wakefield
Aston Villa finally recorded a win against a team in the top six as Jonathan Kodjia hit a brace against Sheffield Wednesday. The 2-0 victory puts Villa to the top of the form table when accounting for the last five matches and certainly shows the rich vein of form Steve Bruce has hit.
Saturday’s opponents Wigan Athletic recently parted ways with manager Warren Joyce as they sit second bottom in the Championship. They’re five points adrift from safety and will be looking at their woeful record in front of goal as the barrier to getting out of the drop zone.
The play-offs are still 14 points away for Villa making the likelihood of a trip to Wembley at the end of the season highly improbable. But no game will be wasted in Bruce’s ruthless rebuilding of Villa as the formation and tactics are fine tuned for the next campaign. A win here for Villa could go a long way in condemning Wigan to League One and a chance to unveil a ‘Sob on the Tame’ banner.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
Weather the Storm
The predicament that the Latics find themselves in couldn’t be much worse; they will still be counting their lucky stars that they aren’t sharing Rotherham’s situation. With nine games to go and 27 points still up for grab, Wigan will definitely not be down for the count just yet.
The sacking of Warren Joyce after just four months in charge has come after he failed to drag an already lifeless Wigan out of the relegation zone despite being heavily backed in the Winter transfer window. Wigan are the Championship’s lowest scorers with just 31 goals and have only scored once in their last four matches, in a 1-0 win against the Blues.
Putting all of these statistics and facts together, this will be caretaker manager Graham Barrow’s first game to impress and he’ll want to start with a bang. Wigan’s inability to score goals will surely be the key focus in training this week for Barrow, so a wildly different Wigan will be turning up on Saturday in comparison to recent weeks.
As Wigan are the home team, they’ll strive to start on the front foot and convince the crowd that they have a chance of beating the drop. Having an excuse to sit deep and play defensive football will be music to Steve Bruce’s ears and will be exactly what Villa will need to do in the first half to avoid falling victim to the new manager effect.
Last week saw Villa defeat a very strong Sheffield Wednesday team, but it could have easily ended in a much different score line. In the first 25 minutes the Owls were the much better team and would have easily have won if the game continued in that form.
Unfortunately, Nathan Baker had to be substituted which led to Bruce changing the formation and playing many players in unfamiliar positions like Adomah at striker and Jedinak at centre-back. These changes worked wonders for the rest of the game and showcased how easy it can be to change the outcome of the game with a few changes.
Steve Bruce has been very prudent when it comes to substitutions; only using them at the tail end of matches to either give young players a throw away five minutes or to waste time. With all the experience Bruce has attained over the years he still has time to learn and taking full advantage of substitutions and tactical changes could be crucial on Saturday.
If Wigan decide not to come out all guns blazing or are protecting a shock lead, the reason why Villa are not winning may be because Bruce has gotten his pre-match decisions all wrong. Throwing a curve ball Wigan’s way could be just the remedy to heal a potentially broken match.
The return to fitness of a number of absentees from recent weeks, should give him more options to do this.
The signings of Ritchie De Laet and James Bree were made to solve the right-back problems and the young man from Barnsley has seemingly broken in to a first team player. Yet somehow, the ‘Scottish Cafu’ keeps making his way on to the pitch.
Whether it be at right-wing or right-back, Alan Hutton continues to infect the first team with his below par performances and it is hindering the effectiveness of Bruce’s team. Whether it be an indictment of how poor the alternative options are for Hutton’s positions, or an appalling showcase of Bruce’s poor player evaluating skills, something is seriously wrong at Villa, if the 32-year-old is still being picked despite his undoubted effort.
With Jedinak being confirmed as starting as centre-back, it is very possible the 4-4-2 will be deployed on Saturday. If Villa want to fulfil their expectations of picking up all three points against Wigan, a start at right-back for James Bree and an opportunity for Corey Blackett-Taylor at right-wing will be Bruce’s best options.
The young winger has managed to cement a place on the bench in recent weeks but has only seen small glimpses of what it’s like on the pitch. Villa have nothing to play for and are up against poor opposition; this is the perfect chance to hand Taylor his first start and drop Hutton to the bench to finally turn the joke on the opponent and not on Villa.
If Scott Hogan returns to the first XI, expect Adomah to switch to the right instead though.
Follow Richard on Twitter: @_RichardAVFC
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