It was difficult considering the manner of the Brentford defeat, not to feel an unnerving sense of de ja vu.
Losing is part and parcel of football, as any ordinary fan will attest, but the manner of Villa’s collapse of form and performances in recent weeks can do little other than alarm. Whilst unconventional, it wasn’t the least bit surprising to see Keith Wyness, Villa’s CEO, issuing a statement confirming this.
In a season marked for promotion clearly by the clubs owner, board and coaching staff, our promising recovery after a sluggish start has faltered at a key juncture.
The uneasy familiarity starts to creep in when we wind the clock back just a year ago.
Whilst the early part of Bruce’s tenure was [by his own admission] an exercise in keeping Villa in The Championship – often overlooked – the period that immediately followed his stabilising of the club does appear to be recurring.
The January to March period of 2017 saw Villa fail miserably to make the playoffs. Indeed, aside from a forlorn late surge, the entire season was a write off. All against a back-drop of exuberant January spending and the continued proclamations of a new owner in Tony Xia.
Rightly, Bruce was afforded time to gel a squad that had crashed out of the Premier League in May 2016 and that was impeded by a glut of signings hastily assembled under the haphazard reign of Roberto Di Matteo. The addition of numerous new personnel in the January 2017 transfer window did little for any immediate continuity.
The concern with Bruce, like so many managers, is an engrained reluctance to evolve. [No ‘dinosaur’ pun intended]
This is presumably under the notion that they have a working methodology which is tried and tested. This works perfectly whilst your competition remains unchanged, but comes into question when you’re being out-thought, out-played and defeated by supposedly inferior opposition.
The Millwall stalemate exposed our lack of invention and vulnerability.
The 2-2 Sheffield United draw, having been two goals clear inside 9 minutes, underlined individual shortcomings and glaring tactical omissions.
Finally, the Brentford defeat on Boxing Day brought home the reality that our current form was not capable of achieving our stated ambitions.
The Brentford performance was a frustrating and uncomfortably predictable result. It was only really the culmination of declining form since the beginning of December, injuries taking their toll and key tactical/individual errors being repeatedly make.
Whilst Bruce has looked limited at times, individual players have done little to aid him either.
Snodgrass hasn’t looked right since his rib injury. Adomah has been man-marked by every side we’ve faced since his mercurial rise. Both lack the pace to stretch teams in an effective 4-4-2. The sides lack of any pace or urgency is something which requires immediately rectifying.
The central midfield is often in disarray.
Hourihane harries, but has rarely been deployed to any great effect in the offensive role he was purchased for. Lansbury, promised so much after a goal at Leeds, is injured, yet again. When the former Forest man does feature, you’d be hard pressed to recall it.
Whelan, openly criticised the manager on the pitch against Sheffield United, makes calamitous mistakes which have cost us points game after game & cannot trade off a great work ethic alone. Jedinak, who will surely never feature at centre-half again, should be deployed in his place, but never alongside.
The defence now creaks as James Chester looks increasingly battle weary. The loss of the excellent John Terry highlights the shortcomings in both recruitment and forward planning. Samba, one dimensional anyway, is now injured due to our over-use. Elphick, recalled after a long exile, is a desperate inclusion following the disastrous Jedinak experiment against Sheff Utd.
The attack, if you can call our limp, poorly serviced strike-force such a thing, once again points to dismal planning.
Kodjia was a known worry following his return from serious injury, but was inexplicably permitted to travel for international duty where he sustained a season long layoff. Davis was initially carried by youthful exhuberance but has tired before our eyes week by week. The uncomfortable truth is that he hasn’t scored nearly enough goals. Hogan, whilst poorly utilised could easily become the next Bosko Balaban. And the fact that Agbonlahor has achieved minutes on the field tells it’s own tale.
The combined affect of this has been an inevitable downturn in results with Villa’s ‘football’ deteriorating into something neither cohesive towards scoring nor adequately defending our own goal.
Whilst there are increasing clamours for Bruce’s head, that has to be the worst outcome.
‘Why?’ I hear you clamour.
Simply, because the club sits probably in it’s most precarious position in quite some time.
Precarious given the unpredictable nature of the managerial merry-go-round, any inevitable ‘transition’ period of new players/coaches and the fact that our financial protection soon evaporates. Those who dismiss the effect to Villa of the restrictive nature financial fair play (FFP), the end of parachute payments & pittance of TV revenue stand to ignore the perfect storm on the horizon.
The best outcome, has to be that Bruce reconsiders his methodology, maybe his entire approach and utilises some of the quality he has at his disposal.
Overall, this is not a bad group of players. They have failings amongst them, but what team doesn’t? There is a decent 11 (at the very least) capable of challenging at the top of this division. We simply need to use them better.
What we haven’t seen much this season is Aston Villa look to seize the initiative in games. We’ve been fortunate, error-prone and the worst charge has to be that mistakes have been repeated across the club.
This isn’t confined to one individual.
Be in the often bizarre social media circus from the owner, wasting millions on the likes of McCormack or plain old dire tactical decisions. None of it combines to setting Villa up in the right way – and they could be errors from any Villa regime pondering inanely asto why it’s not succeeding.
Ultimately though, like any manager, Bruce will be judged by results and is the fall guy. His survival now depends upon him getting Villa back to winning ways. Thereafter, Villa must return to something resembling convincing promotion form. Without this, there is only one outcome.
The turnaround must come quickly, starting with an away win at Middlesbrough.
Aston Villa vs Middlesbrough – View the latest odds and find Free Bets.
Date: Saturday 30.12.2018
Kick Off Time: 3pm
Match Preview to follow.