A lot of the promise and momentum Villa built up came undone as 2017 came to an end. The results against Derby, Brentford and the surrender to Sheffield United saw a very shaky Villa lose ground in the promotion chase.
NATIVES ARE RESTLESS
Love him or hate him, Steve Bruce’s plans to get Villa up took a blow in December. His footballing style doesn’t create much, his insistence on picking his team on his terms and not on form (see Grealish start on the bench against Boro after shining in the last two games he had started) is frustrating. It stinks of his overthinking: “They’ll never expect this… I’ll put Grealish on the bench!”
Social media is alight with cases for and against keeping Bruce on, especially in the wake of Boro and now Forest deciding a new man is needed in the past few days. None of which is helped by Bruce firing back sarcastic comments about “crisis” in response to criticism.
The performance and result against Boro showed how the team can capitalise from Bruce Ball – a resolute performance with players in their correct positions doing their job, keeping a clean sheet and unlocking a stubborn defensive line with a well-worked peach of a goal to win it.
The problems come when it doesn’t go like that and the team looks like McLeish is still in charge.
DOCTOR IN CHARGE
Dr. Tony Xia described December as “disaster month” though will be happy with the win at Boro. CEO Keith Wyness tweeted that “everyone knows the reality”. The big question is – how much longer does Bruce have to convince his bosses (and fans) he’s still the right man for the job?
Some of his better tactical decisions have come by accident (he dropped Albert, only giving him his place back after injuries to others). Like recent Villa managers – and understandably – he prefers the players he signed ahead of those he didn’t.
And the kids who would provide some desperately needed pace and enthusiasm on the field and the terraces are still largely sat on the bench at best, watching.
Until Villa can put in a few performances like Wolves are managing, it’s going to be a knife-edge between creeping into the play-offs and missing out in so many ways.
January could certainly define Villa’s rest-of-season. The good news is that JT will play a part, barring a collapse from his rehab.
A home game against Bristol City is followed by Peterborough in the cup – that will bring back memories of the 6-0 League Cup tie back in 1995. Two wins here would be a flying start.
Forest away, with a new man in charge at the City Ground, could prove more difficult. Barnsley aren’t in great form and a visit to Sheffield United to wrap up the month will give Villa a chance to avenge the 2-2 at Villa Park while it’s still fresh in the memory.
If Villa can grab three league wins, a draw at The Blades and advance in the FA Cup that would be a solid footing.
… UNTIL THE FAT LADY SINGS
This column isn’t convinced Villa are going up this season. But they’re almost there. They have to start beating teams around them in the league. They have to be intimidating and be more relentless in their attacking play. In games where they are being outplayed, they have to roll the dice and change things rather than keep hoping maybe things will change and go their way.
Being a Villa fan hasn’t been easy in the last few years and it hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. But the pay-off is close, with or without this crop of players and management team.
Let’s keep the faith, pay attention and not give up just yet.
Follow Adam Keeble on Twitter @keebo00