Poor performances aside, Steve Bruce has managed to keep Aston Villa’s home unbeaten run going after a tight 2-1 victory versus Burton Albion. Villa will return to Villa Park on Thursday to face an in-form Leeds United who handed Steve Bruce his first defeat as Villa boss.
It’s a key fixture in terms of promotion as Villa are now forced to start taking points off the teams occupying the play-off places, if they are to be taken seriously as contenders.
Gary Monk’s Leeds however have been a formidable team this season, winning eight games from their last ten. Like Derby’s previous seven-game winning run, it shows that the general lack of quality teams in the Championship can be exploited if you get your own team sorted out.
Despite the five-game win streak at home for Villa, the opponents have been more often than not, struggling near the bottom of the table. The lacklustre performances from Villa indicate that when faced with a team full of confidence and quality, they may not be able to get the job done. With a full Villa Park expected behind the boys and a few tweaks to the tactics and team, getting the three points may not be as allusive as one might think.
Here’s three ways of making it happen…
Return of the McCormack
The victory over Burton Albion came to fruition due to a fortunate finish from Ross McCormack, as the ball fell kindly to his feet for him to calmly put the ball into an empty net. A first goal in months for the Scotsman could be the start of McCormack recapturing his form which secured his £12 million move to Villa Park in the first place.
Rudy Gestede was deployed at Elland Road all them weeks ago with Steve Bruce’s gamble failing miserably. The Benin international was substituted before the game finished and didn’t leave the fans wanting more. McCormack hitting form at this time of the season could be critical with Kodjia and Ayew leaving in January for international duty.
Leading the line up-front with Jonathan Kodjia has proven to be mildly successful with two wins from two matches with this formation. So it would be silly for Steve Bruce to drop McCormack against his former club, as this goal for McCormack may have been just what he needed to show us all what he can really do in the Championship.
An ingredient to Leeds’s recipe for success is their stellar defensive record, conceding three goals in their last five games. A closer look at Leeds’s fixtures reveals a serious frailty in the squad. The good defensive record acts as a front as the majority of the clean sheets come at home. Leeds have only kept one clean sheet on the road since mid-September against a struggling Wolves.
Their last outing against the over-achieving Preston North End highlighted a weakness in Gary Monk’s defence as they conceded a goal from yet another attack which stemmed from a looping cross in to the box. Both goals from Norwich and the goal they conceded versus against Rotherham all resulted from high crosses or set pieces.
Watching the Leeds defenders react to the second ball, as the cross is headed down, is reminiscent of Sunday league football at times as they stand like statues. With height expected in the Villa starting XI, Baker, Kodjia, Gardner and Jedinak should be key targets from set pieces. A combination of Adomah, Bacuna and McCormack drifting around the box looking for that second ball to be headed down could be so simple, yet so effective.
Riding Our Luck
While all Villa fans will be happy that three points were picked up against Burton on Boxing day, the substitutions towards the end of the game can not be ignored, as they were quite alarming.
Fortunately, subbing off all recognised central-midfielders worked against Burton as all-out-attack was the answer to breaking down the stubborn Albion defence. Against a stronger opponent, would it have worked so well?
Leeds United have that quality and strength that Burton Albion lacked and nobody wants to see what the consequences will be if this gamble is taken again. Mile Jediank is going to play a critical part for Villa in both attack and defence meaning substituting Jedinak shouldn’t even cross Bruce’s mind unless the Aussie is having an absolute shocker or he has a leg hanging on by a thread!
Follow Richard on Twitter: @_RichardAVFC
All the key Villa issues discussed weekly. Give. it. A. Listen!