Middlesbrough Preview: Bruce under scrutiny as patience wears thin. Match stats, facts & predictions.

Aston Villa Barnsley

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The first of two visits of Middlesbrough (we face ‘Boro next week in the Carabao Cup), see’s Steve Bruce lurching precariously after a dismal showing against Brentford.

Despite a surge of positivity after a win in the league against Norwich and progressing comfortably in the League Cup over  Wigan, it was an all too familiar tale last time out.

Stagnant, bereft of ideas and fortunate not to lose the game.

Many have since pondered how Dean Smith’s visiting side, winless and having been asset-stripped during the transfer window, looked a more complete footballing side.  Despite an expensively assembled squad, built over two transfer windows under the current manager, Villa still appear largely rudderless.

Bruce urgently needs to find a winning combination, not least to quell a simmering discontent amongst supporters, but to stave off an unpredictable owner.  Dr Tony Xia didn’t exactly hang around when it came to dismissing Roberto Di Matteo last term.

The Villa Underground takes the view, that despite the lack of progress so far this term, sacking Bruce at this juncture can only be considered premature.  The best remedy to this though, is adopting a progressive, “front foot” style of football.  However, few would readily associate such a style with the former Manchester United defender.

Perhaps the real concern is the combination of the Xia’s ambition and what the impact of a third season in The Championship would do to the football clubs finances.  Game by game, things certainly become more finely balanced.  The conversation, yet more polarised.

For those of a Villa persuasion, the only desirable outcome has to be a home win.

The alternative, both in terms of hysteria and actions from board level, don’t bare thinking about.


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  • Middlesbrough are 6th
  • Villa are 18th
  • Villa currently have the 14th best home form.
  • Middlesbrough have the 10th best away form.
  • Adama Traore looks set to start – & he terrorised Bolton at the weekend.
  • Boro had gone 20 games without an away win prior however.
  • Villa have beaten Boro just 1 in last 6 at Villa Park.
  • Jonathan Kodjia likely to feature after a long spell out.
  • But Onomah, Davis & Green look set to miss out through injury.
  • Grealish & Hepburn-Murphy definitely will not feature.
  • Rudy Gestede won’t play a part after recent surgery.


The impact of a defeat upon Bruce and potentially our wider aspirations this season cannot be overlooked.

No doubt that this will not be lost on the manager, who needs not only to change the direction of meandering early season form, but keep the wolves from his own door.

Middlesbrough remain one of the promotion candidates this term, but their away form mirrors out own.  It’s dreadful; with 13 defeats in the last 20, and just one win, coming last weekend against bottom club Bolton.

As importantly, Villa now need individual players to step up.  The return of Jonathan Kodjia, despite an obvious lack of match sharpness, immediately injects the possibility of something spontaneous happening….and goals.  For all of the comment about Kodjia’s greed on the ball, his goal return speaks for itself.

Whilst it might not be pretty – Villa need to edge it – kitchen sink and all – 2-1 to Villa.


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