The last few years have delivered some memorably bad moments as a Villa supporter, so, for a singular defeat to shock so much, something isn’t right.
It was adject. It was criminally poor. It was such a difficult game of football to watch, let alone endure.
After just three league games of the 2017/18 season, Steve Bruce’s ratings have crashed to an all time low.
Whilst pre-season might have offered little to provide any great reassurance, few would have predicted that this Villa side would look in worse shape than the one which crashed out of the Premier League.
It’s quite a feat. And it’s embarrassing.
In a carbon copy of Hull & Cardiff, Villa failed to capitalise upon an early chance, with Andre Green the offender this week.
After this, we watched on as we became entrenched in our own half, virtually retreating to the final third as Reading dictated the play unopposed. They barely broke a sweat in doing so.
As frustratingly, when we did have the ball (as low as 17% of the time at one point) we wasted it. Lumped aimless balls were a theme all night long.
The tactics, therefore, baffled once again.
The midfield was anchored so, so deep.
Whelan, perhaps understandably so, but Hourihane was so far away from our lone striker (Gabby replaced the injured Hogan) that it rendered his first 45 a pointless endeavour.
The second half underlined our lack of concentration. Or arguably, our lack of any discernible plan.
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Presumably with some form of team orders still ringing in our ears, we were soon behind.
Whilst a wicked deflection off Whelen provided Reading with their opener, it was one of any number of efforts which were permitted with little or no challenge across the 90.
The hosts were afforded space, time and the freedom of the pitch. It made for bizarre viewing. There was little or no fight, no flair or verve…
Where opportunities did present, we were also wasteful.
Bjarnason, showing little overall to impress yet again, blazed an effort over and could have done better with a header. Chances though, were few and far between from a stifled, impotent attack.
Andre Green continues to cut a lost figure, with his end of season form simply not having carried over into the new campaign.
The youngster tries hard and repeatedly, but may require an arm around the shoulder. Simply trying the same thing over and over just won’t work.
Hourihane enjoyed more impact in the second half, delivering a number of direct set plays. He also took his goal well, hammering home after a good cross from Adomah, with a composed chest down from Gabby. It stood as a reminder that if we pressed forward, that opporunities can be created and converted.
However, it was too little too late, with Reading’s second goal, stabbed home after a straighforward cut back beyond the scrambling Terry.
The former Chelsea man fisted the floor in anger, as every Villa fan looked on aghast.
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We are so early into a new season, pondering [with genuine concern] not only the lack of progression, but a visible step backwards in our fortunes.
It’s caused some level of hysteria across social media, which has resulted in many previously stalwart Bruce/Xia supporters become disillusioned already.
To call for Bruce’s head, as bad as the opening 270 minute of football have been, just has to be too soon. Surely?
It’s times like these that we have to keep our own heads, perhaps.
Bruce is the fall guy but is certainly not doing enough. However, to overlook the failings of individual players, would in this blogs view, let them massively off the hook as well.
To be clear; Bruce is underperforming and has brought much of the pressure on himself through a negative brand of football. BUT. There are too many billy-big-time passengers at Villa Park, still. How or why this is, I don’t know, but both the manager and the players need to be doing something about it.
Is it Bjarnason’s fault he’s suddenly become a utility player? No. Is it his fault he cannot control a football? Absolutely.
Is it Hogan’s fault he’s becoming a sicknote? No. Does he look worth anything like £12 million? Not a chance.
The list could obviously continue in this fashion through most of the first team squad….sadly…
We have to avoid changing the manager, but may have to face up to the reality should results not improve.
Bruce probably has 10 games [max] if he can get us on an upward trajectory. The biggest worry? A knee jerk reaction from Xia after 7 or 8 games if our situation doesn’t improve markedly.
It might be the right thing to do, but it will put us back to square one. Contemplating who we might appoint or who would even want the job just doesn’t bare thinking about.
If there’s one knee jerk reaction required, then it’s Bruce coming to his senses and adopting an attacking style of play.
Arguably he has nothing to lose.
Persevere down the current road and we will continue to be picked off with ease. Cardiff and Reading are early, irrefutable evidence of this, with any number of examples between January-March 2017 to boot.
Perversely, we have the players, but they have to be unshackled from their deep, holding roles.
Hourihane was signed on the basis of his craft and creativity. Release him to feed the attack. Why not compliment him with the raw talent and youthful exuberance of O’Hare whilst Grealish is sidelined?
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Green & Adomah provide two good options out wide, but they must be deployed in the right way.
Adomah isn’t always pretty, but his assists speak for themselves.
Green, as mentioned above, needs a quiet word in his ear now and then to keep to the basics or pick a pass rather than running dead ends. He has the ability, but now is the time to hone it and make sure he can hurt teams.
At right back it’s also time to make our choices. De Laet looked rusty & Hutton’s effort doesn’t delude this blog from his well documented flaws. The modern, technically gifted talent of Bree needs to be blooded.
The next test is a tricky home tie against Norwich.
For Bruce he now simply has to find the winning formula, or risk haemorrhaging what little support remains or run the risk of a Xia considering damage limitation.