Following Aston Villa seems to go in recurring cycles.
In recent years, these cycles increasingly arrive at a ‘Groundhog Day’ moment where it can be broadly agreed that the manager has badly lost his way.
A dismal, embarrassing and completely justified mauling at Bramall Lane could well be the moment for Steve Bruce.
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Villa arrived to face Sheffield United on a four game winless run. United, buoyed by three straight wins and having battered Bolton away from home, oozed confidence.
By contrast, Villa looked ill-prepared, wholly disorganised and were roundly punished for their collective ineptitude.
We were by no means setting the world alight before Saturday’s defeat, but following a pre-season of financial meltdown and a formal transfer embargo (media silence on that one), an element of leeway could be permitted.
I’m on the record as saying that I was eager to remain on the fence with Bruce.
I loathe the managerial merry-go-round. Any “in-season” change of gaffer immediately puts a team into “transition”. Doesn’t it feel like we’ve been in transition forever to you?
I, surely like many others, must be tired of chop and change and the false notion that it reaps immediate, guaranteed success.
As fans we crowed for Lambert (LOL), were enamoured by Sherwood’s persona (LOLOL), imagined Remi Garde could resurrect us (hoo ha) before being bought in by Tony Xia’s absurd notion of world conquering with Di Matteo (Pa-ha-di-ha).
However, when things are going wrong, it’s important to recognise that they are. It’s also important to be brave enough to do something about it.
And so the barometer shifts against Bruce.
As a club we’re entitled to nothing. Our past glories we’re attained by being the best in that moment, not by muddling along, puzzling even ourselves with inexplicable selection decisions (our defence is baffling ffs) and repetitive excuse laden post match interviews.
The facts of this latest encounter are simple.
We couldn’t cope with our hosts well-honed organisation, their modern passing movement and clinical nature in front of goal. These are traits we should have developed by now.
Painfully we remain a mish-mash of individuals. That doesn’t exclude the boss.
Remarkably Bruce admitted to selecting 5 [FIVE] players who were so unfit/injured that they’d been unable to train all week. A remarkable admission, both in the colossal ineptitude of such a error – as much as what it says for the fringe players whom he dare not risk calling upon to deputise. Many of whom he signed.
GOALS GOALS GOALS…
The first goal, a set play, was comfortable enough, but neither centre half managed to compete resulting in Jack O’Connell opening the scoring on just 6 minutes. Eugh.
Villa were then into full on headless chicken mode, chasing shadows.
United, comfortable, played a triangle around Whelan before a deflected effort towards goal off Jedinak narrowly stayed out courtesy of the goalpost. Nyland, increasingly accustomed to picking a football out of a net, then saved low at the near post.
The warning signs were glaring.
The second goal came courtesy of a long punt to midfield from United, John McGinn was too easily overcome before Mark Duffy fired a low effort beyond Nyland from distance. Poor from both midfield, central defence and keeper again. It was though, a fine, if unopposed strike.
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Another set play and a disturbing lapse from Nyland at his near post gave Sheff Utd a 3-0 lead. The Norwegian did little to reassure in respect of his competence here. Barely 30 minutes gone by the way…
The fourth came shortly after half time. After a poor throw out from Nyland, the Villa defence saw itself pulled all over the place before Billy Sharp turned smartly in the box, powering a finish into the roof of the net. We saw the ‘real’ Hutton, Chester painfully flailing and Jedinak looking every bit a player completely out of position & depth.
One purposeful move saw good interplay between Kodjia, Whelan and El-Ghazi, with the latter securing Villa’s consolation and his debut goal for the club. A shame, as it was a fine, deft finish beyond the keepers far post. Further, it included a quite superb weighted ball assisted by Whelan.
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As all four corners of the ground sang “You’re getting sacked in the morning”, to boos at full time, it illustrates that Bruce is crossing a unsavoury line at Villa.
With an international break, it affords the new owners and a newly appointed CEO (Christian Purslow) the time to reflect on matters at hand. It has to be the worst time for a manager with this amount of expectation, investment, squad, current form & level of under-achievement to be going on a break..
Bruce cannot be faulted for his initial steadying of Aston Villa as it lurched in an amateurish fashion following years of neglect under Randy Lerner and a nosedive relegation.
Indeed, we could easily have “done a Sunderland” from the harm that naive “Dr” Tony Xia and hapless Di Matteo’s joint carelessness inflicted.
However, where criticism has to be warranted is our lack of any coherent progress since.
We’ve faltered and stumbled repeatedly, never looked the finished article, rarely suggesting of having an actual Plan A, regardless of a Plan B. And all this against a backdrop of quite outlandish investment, especially at Championship level.
Results like the defeat against Sheffield United don’t define Aston Villa, but they do increasingly define us under Bruce.
We have the stature, we have the backing, but to accomplish what we need here and now, promotion, do we have the right man at the helm?