Who would have thought we Villa fans, indeed, this blog as well, would ever be saying that?
Villa are suddenly hard to beat, getting the points we would previously have dropped and finally appear to have a manager with tactical nous.
It might not always be pretty under Bruce, but he is certainly setting us up to get the most from games in what is a transitional season. He is certainly getting the results that Di Matteo didn’t seem capable of, which is obviously a marked improvement.
The visit of Blackburn Rovers represents a huge opportunity to put valuable points on the board ahead of a tricky away fixture at Brighton following the international break.
Rovers are, probably by their own admission now, a strange outfit. They remain under the bizarre ownership of poultry producers the “Venky’s” & are now seemingly staring relegation to League One in the face. At the very least they appear to have a relegation battle on their hands.
Their squad looks limited, they languish in over £100m of accrued debt & have recently seen supporters (rightly) protesting. There are delayed matchday walk ins, coordinated walk-outs but most tellingly, the collapse of a clubs fanbase that has struggled with attendance generally.
Rovers are currently selling less than 35% of their tickets for home games. For a club with a 30,000+ seater stadium it’s a dreadful state of affairs.
I don’t blame supporters for staying away, quite the opposite. Whilst Randy Lerner (our former inept and an absent owner) was incredibly damaging to Aston Villa, he was at his worst just plain incompetent. Whilst disinterested in our club by the end, he was kind enough to leave the life support machine on.
The Venkys? Their ownership defies rational explanation or interpretation from the day they purchased the unfortunate Lancashire club.
It’s truly a sad state of affairs for a fellow founding member of the football league, formed just a year after our own. It’s easy to forget that this was a club that won the Premier League in 1995 ahead of Manchester United at their pomp. Shearer, Sutton and …… Sherwood!
Blackburn come to Villa Park needing the win. They arrive however having lost their last two away from Ewood Park and sitting second bottom. The form table also doesn’t suggest much might change rapidly.
The table doesn’t make good reading, with little to suggest an imminent pull away from the drop zone. Rovers goal difference of -8 is also worth noting.
By contrast, we appear to have finally turned the corner and retain the only unbeaten home record in the division. Wins against Reading & Fulham have been complimented with draws in local derbies against Wolves and Blues. The latter two games it’s fair to say that the points taken were good points in the circumstances.
We do though see Steve Bruce faced with perhaps the first set of selection dilemmas since his arrival as boss.
Ill-disciplined Jack Grealish is now available after his three match ban has now been served for kicking out in the Wolves game. Whilst Jordan Ayew starts a ban having collected a number of often needless yellow cards.
Both are talented, but need to engage their brains more readily.
Bruce also has to mull whether there is a need for the ongoing inclusion of Agbonlahor in the matchday squad. For all of the pantomine joy his shock appearance at St Andrews provided, his impact both at that game and this season at large remains a contentious issue.
Football is a funny old game, but it would be a massive surprise if Gabby was the key to Villa mounting a promotion challenge of any sort.
Equally the midfield continues to raise questions. Jedinak needs to find some consistency along with the unpredictable Gary Gardner. Ashley Westwood again looked limited against Birmingham. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Tshibola reappear, fitness permitting.
A win would obviously be healthy this side of yet another (annoying) international break and might finally allow us to look at the top half of the table with some purpose.
It would also be pleasant to plot our route into the playoff spots, which will only become more difficult as sides begin to cement their places. Interestingly Fulham, whom we recently defeated, have risen to 7th on 24 points having beaten Brentford on Friday night. At the very least we need to keep in touch with sides who we must feel more than capable of overcoming.
This is therefore a great chance to build upon the steady points return from Bruce’s opening games in charge.
Anything less than three points must be considered a disappointment given our aspirations & the shape that Blackburn arrive in. No pressure Steve.
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