A frustrating afternoon saw Villa rather improbably keep a clean sheet while failing to offer virtually any threat, and the resulting 0-0 draw against visiting Brentford was a let off. And a huge letdown.

I’ve gone round and round on this one, seeing it one way then another. So this might seem a bit disjointed and not quite the fire and brimstone one might have expected. More than anything I feel tired and jaded.

The Good
Sam Johnstone had a good day between the sticks, making a number of vital saves as Brentford kept finding space and came at Villa with a number of good opportunities they really should have converted. Sam’s distribution was not so good for the most part, though, needlessly giving the ball back to Brentford on a number of occasions.

Steve Bruce persisted with the line-up that’s shown the most dynamism so far this season. And I was pleased to see that. On the day, it wasn’t quite so dynamic, though. And we find out afterward that Bruce says the players were tired and jaded. So while I was going to give Bruce credit for sticking with Green, Hourihane, and Davis up top, it turns out that Green and Davis shouldn’t have been selected. And indeed, Green, Davis and Onomah all left with injuries.

Not very clever, in the end, and you can take what would’ve been a Good and move it down to the Bad. Or the Ugly.

The Bad
Brentford were just the sharper, better team. And that’s obviously unacceptable. They were much more aggressive going after the ball. Although a lot of the possession the Bees enjoyed was meaningless to begin with, they kept the ball away from us, preventing Villa from getting any rhythm or initiative. Then of course, there were the numerous chances that could’ve made this one a blowout.

For their part, Villa were sloppy and unable to make Brentford pay for sucking up so close. Players were either dithering too much, misplacing their passes, or mis-weighting them.

Whelan knows the game, but Villa need more pace and physical presence in that spot. Beyond that, he didn’t have a good day, even at the low standard we’re beginning to expect from him. He can’t command his area, and is decidedly a weak link where no team can afford one.

And if the players were truly tired and jaded, Bruce could’ve changed it up earlier, avoided injuries, and injected some life into the side. But he seems unable to do that.

Were the players truly tired? Or are they tired of Bruce? We looked lively enough for two games that bought Steve Bruce some time, so it’s hard for me to say he’s lost the dressing room. But he’s still failing to get consistent performances, and is persisting with certain players that are not producing.

The Ugly
All of it, in the end.

Final Verdict
I think Dr. Tony’s post-match verdict was apt, as it was in many ways a disastrous day. Vital points dropped, promising players injured, and no Plan B.

And this is where I’ve struggled. One the one hand, there are going to be days like this, days where you just don’t play well. You don’t want them against a team you certainly should be beating at home. And you don’t want to make them look good in the process.

Whelan is not an answer. Gabby is not an answer.

Bruce has Bjarnason and Adomah he could be turning to, but instead he’s sidelined last season’s leading assist man to go with Elmohamady, and turns to Gabby, who contributed nothing, instead of Bjarnason. Of course I hope Snodgrass does have something to offer, but he’ll need to shake the rust off, first. And if Snodgrass becomes the preferred option on the right, where does Elmo go? I find it hard to believe we need four right backs.

Which all leads to the fundamental frustration that Bruce is still failing to figure out any combinations other than the one he was forced into, and one that was put out for Cup duty, played well, and duly forgotten about. He seemingly can’t make moves to change a game. He’d apparently like his old Hull side back.

We should be able to switch things up. We should be able to bring on a proven goalscorer at this level and get something out of him. We have wide options that can inject energy and offer something different. I can’t imagine playing Lansbury in a deeper holding role would be any worse than having Whelan out there. I don’t think Doyle-Hayes would do any worse. Or Jordan Lyden. I don’t think Terry is helping much of anything. This is a pacey league and he doesn’t have the speed for it. When we’re forward in numbers, Whelan and Terry are liabilities on the counter.

At any rate, it doesn’t look good for Bruce. The campaign is obviously off to a poor start, promotion hopes are fading, and we’re still getting outplayed and outcoached after 44 games under his direction. The momentum from the two four-goal wins has been lost.

If the side were tired, you can understand a lack of energy. But, once again, you can avoid that by not fielding tired players. Just poor management all round, and I’m having a hard time believing any other manager would be doing any worse.

On the upside, Kodjia and Jedinak are ready to get back in the frame. One hopes that spells the end of Whelan, even though Jedi is no Usain Bolt either. But at least he’s more physical.

For now, Bruce has left me just as confused as he is.

Over to you.

Comments 47

  1. Why is SB so confused? A case of too many options? His bag of tricks is limited? His top players are missing and he over relies on them?
    Then can he beat the other teams to an automation qualification place. I don’t want us to sack another manager but is this someone who can ever instill a footballing philosophy at VP apart from chaotic, however long he gets?

  2. JC,with respect….
    The Good……the ginger lad who schools us when we play Brentford,how is he still there.?
    The Bad……all of it.
    The Mediocre…..SB
    If Gabby is the answer,what was the question?

  3. John,

    We wanted youngsters … we’ve seen youngsters, 4 of ’em on Saturday … and we still moan.

    Nothing’s going to go right overnight as I keep urging y’all to realise … and all I get back in response is something about Bruce’s 40-odd games to get ‘it’ right. ‘It’ being the biggest and worst situation in Villa’s history – yes, even that in 1967.

    It takes time to recover from all that. After 1967 it took 8 years … but this chairman doesn’t want wait anywhere near that length of time.

    This leaves Bruce with no pressure, does it? No – he’s NOT the best manager in the world, that’s obvious, but he’s a decent feller who will try his hardest to get it right. And he DOES have the ability to get the current job sorted, though some of it is ham-fisted.

    As far as tomorrow is concerned, we really are in a no-man’s land as 3 of the youngsters may well be out, and the Jedi and Codger have yet to get started, with Snodgrass just starting to warm up.

    So, Traore, the field is yours. You can now show us why we should not have let you go. Should we, RDM?

    If we get a point tomorrow that’s as much as we might expect. More than that will be a miracle.

  4. Thanks JC no wonder your feeling jaded with all that in your Noggin 🙂

    I think certain things are coming to light at this point in time, Bruce is easily out thought being the most prominent. Maybe he should ask Dean Smith how he stops his international players from being tired? I think when your team is chasing shadows individually then they will tire (dean identified our pressing singularly pre-match), when they fail to set up a defensive screen as a team they will be picked apart easily too. Its all to amateur for me in a league full of hungry smart managers, Bruce expects the team to sort it out while his input is naming the team.

    I think Steve Bruces 4 promotions are a bit of a smoke screen, admirable as they are he came in to city and Hull and got them up first try, then after a few years of Building he relegated them and once again got them promoted first time of asking. The longer he has at a club the less progression they make and the player turnover is always high. That leads me to believe he is a man manager not a man with a plan, if he doesn’t do it first try then the chances diminish that he will if he doesn’t drop on a team/formula pretty quick.

  5. JL,

    As you’ll have seen me say, the youngsters are going to have ups and downs. And there are always bad days at the office.

    And I do say that initially I was pleased to see Bruce include them all again. However, if he’s going to come out and say that they were knackered and he should have seen that, then that’s the issue on the day.

    Should they have been tired? Open to debate. The fact they picked up injuries suggest they may well have been overextended.

    So, not about the youngsters. More about Bruce’s feel for the team, and having, or not, a Plan B in case it wasn’t going well.

  6. JL- Adama is the reason we have Adomah if I remember, on his last two seasons performances he was raw, very raw. Shame we couldn’t wait but he has only started once this season and made an impression, he’s had 2-3 off the bench but created nothing, hope that Adama turns up tomorrow.

    I have no problem with time being given its when I see it used with little intelligence or thought it bothers me, we are working harder when smarter would be better right now imo.

  7. I also think all of us could/would be more ‘patient’ if it weren’t for the resources that have been thrown at this. I’m sure we can offload some players (Kodjia will be off for one, if we don’t get back up), but we’re right up against FFP, parachute payment will drop again, and we’re not seeing any ‘building’ going on so far.

    And I think in the modern age, along with lots of analysis, there just is less time and patience given the money involved. We might well languish for a while. But I think we could be further along than we seem to be at the moment.

  8. Traore does have pace, explosiveness, and forward drive. But as you point out, Mark, was very raw, always ran himself into cul-de-sacs, and wasn’t often finding anyone.

    Would have been nice if we could’ve let him develop, but was hard to see a football brain behind the athleticism, and that’s probably the reason we were able to pick him up.

  9. JC- heres the borough view of Traore, just in time for our game mind 🙂

    We asked Jonathon Taylor from the Middlesbrough Gazette for the lowdown on Adama Traore’s return to form.

    Just Villa’s luck that he should find his feet ahead of his Villa Park return tomorrow.

    A couple of weeks ago, you’d be a brave man to predict Adama Traore would still be at Boro beyond the transfer window, let alone find himself in the starting XI at Bolton.
    Interest from French club Lille seemed to turn his head, and he was subsequently left out of the matchday 18 against Preston as speculation circled.
    But Boro dug in their heels, Traore was handed his first league start on Saturday, and he put in a magical performance.
    He was unstoppable, simply unplayable on the day.
    He showed explosive pace, strength and most crucially an end product – something that hasn’t always been the case since joining Boro.
    Saturday felt like his coming of age, and in terms of attributes, he has them all – very few players can do what he can. But as ever with a winger, he’ll be judged on consistency.
    That’s Traore’s big challenge now. Can he deliver that type of performance week-in, week-out? If he can, the 21-year-old could be a serious weapon at any level, not just in the Championship.

  10. John: “However, if he’s going to come out and say that they were knackered and he should have seen that, then that’s the issue on the day.”

    Hence why I said that some of what’s going on is “ham-fisted”.

    I fully realise that the matter of your leader was not specifically about the youngsters, but they were mentioned and Bruce was implicated as being at fault (as always – not just by you!) whereas I see what happens as a result of the pressure put on Bruce by ‘up top’. And the fans.

    It may seem that I am trying to defend the indefensible “after 44 games under his direction” but who else is capable of turning this club around from the stagnant situation it was in when Bruce took over, after clearly a misunderstanding of the situation by RDM of what was needed (e.g. players’ attitudes and Traore, and that’s not all)?

    I say that 44 games in the context of what Bruce found is nothing.

    And if we’d all give him that space he needs it would work out OK. But what might happen? He’ll eventually be hounded out and replaced by someone who will need another 44 or 88 (etc) games to get Villa to a position satisfactory to the fans.

    “Villa fans” are fickle”. 🙂

  11. MK: “I seem to remember Traore was on some ridiculous wage scheme as well”

    Did you see the Boro highlights?

    I’ve not seen wing-play like that since the days of … Sorry, I’ve NEVER seen wing-play as determined as that! He not only showed great skills but fought like a lion. Well, not the Villa pussy-cat!

    Perhaps he’s worth the dough you mention. Both entertainment wise and effectiveness-wise, he was terrific.

  12. All teams are guilty of letting players go before they are fully tuned in. Traore being a good example. A lot of teams are brilliant at letting players go two days before they turn to poo. This where Villa sit. Letting potential go and buying future poo. Now I know all the excuses for not settling in and for some reason 44 games isn’t enough for some, but it’s totally possible that all that’s needed is someone to unlock that dormant skill. Maybe a good feed of spring rolls is all that’s needed.
    I think administration were too quick to punt RDM and are going to be guilty of being too slow with Bruce.
    There are tons of talent on this team- maybe Jack Grealish needs to share his hair gell.

  13. Ian,

    The point is (i.m.o.) that the issue at Villa has not been simply a skill-based issue.

    The situation at Villa 12 months ago was that too much dross in terms of attitude was still pervading the scene and rightly needed to be cleared out i.m.o.

    I’m not sure we’re even totally there yet, but perhaps we are. But that’s the big reason for me why 44 games are not enough.

    In any case, the inference from the chairman is that September is the key month at the end of which we’ll see how we’re doing and whether Bruce has done enough to earn a reprieve.

  14. JL,

    Well, Brucie has been around a while. He knows the pressure, it was clear from the outset. And like you, I think he’s a genuine guy. Don’t dislike him at all. Part of being a manager, though, is sticking to your guns if you believe you’re right, and knowing when what you’ve been doing isn’t working and it’s time to change.

    I understand that you and I disagree (agreeably) on how much can be expected at a given point. I’m not necessarily on a Bruce Out campaign. It just seems apparent that the team have to kick on fairly quickly for him.

    And, obviously, I do think 44 games is enough to see improvement and consistency, a more settled side, and enough awareness of the players to make better tactical adjustments. I could always be wrong, and maybe it’s not.

    But, and here we’ll go round and round, I do think the ‘hangover’ needs to be left behind, mentally. A line has to be drawn to put things in the past so you can be free of them. The youngsters certainly don’t play like they have PTSD.

  15. JC: “He knows the pressure, it was clear from the outset. And like you, I think he’s a genuine guy. Don’t dislike him at all. Part of being a manager, though, is sticking to your guns if you believe you’re right, and knowing when what you’ve been doing isn’t working and it’s time to change.”

    So, hasn’t he been changing? I say he has, though no-one will give him cred for it.

    As I said he’s had to turn around a bad stink at Villa and it’s taken a lot of time. Though we can easily get over the past mentally (as you put it) by resurrecting the number of games he’s had (44). We speak of those 44 as though it’s just been an easy ride and build up to get to the right place. I do not for a moment believe it has.

    We do – rightly – expect this season to show lots of fruit from those 44 games and squad developments, but we have also had injuries to key people. Maybe this month will see us coming out of it all smelling roses.

    It’s also the players themselves … I was thinking the worst of Hourihane at the start of the season, and expected Lansbury to fill that slot. But the reverse has happened. So yet another example of how the die had not been cast – even after 44 games.

    In my view it’s a bit harsh to malign a manager before this month is over. If it’s all pear-shaped at the end of that time then we can probably disect then, assuming he’s shown the door.

    But, as I said before, what’s another manager going to do? Another 44 matches… or more?

  16. JC how can there even be a hangover? The only players I can think of are Agbonlahor, Hutton, and Grealish from pre RDM. Do new arrivals pick up a bad attitude walking in for the first time?
    JL, skill isn’t the only yardstick but the one I chose as that’s what looks like is missing on the pitch. After all If all were playing to their skill level they would be 6 and 0

  17. JC,

    BTW, I don’t believe Bruce has ever had a job as pressured as this before. You might think you understand it mentally, but experiencing it is probably another thing altogether.

  18. Ian,

    Well that’s your view and there’s elements of truth there, I agree. As for Grealish, I think he has a lot to prove.

    But the boss is the man who should know what is needed and I’m content to let him go to October before I say otherwise.

  19. Ian: “how can there even be a hangover? The only players I can think of are Agbonlahor, Hutton, and Grealish from pre RDM.”

    Bruce clearly thought there was a lot more … like Ayew and McCormack (who’s still sitting in the dressing room). Players like Bacuna and Gardner have also proved not to have enough quality, nor attitude in respect of Bacuna.

    I could go on, but I didn’t think much of the squad that Bruce inherited. We’re in a far better state now i.m.o. … it’s just that we’ve not achieved too much so far this season. But it was only 2 games ago that we scored 8 goals over two matches. That doesn’t count I suppose!

  20. He’ll likely get the month, JL, as we’ve seen implied. And I, for one, hope he does turn it around.

    In the meantime, just like playing, you analyze/discuss/argue what’s in front of you.

    And I was very pleased with the Norwich and Wigan matches, which is why I supported keeping the Norwich combination together, and wouldn’t mind seeing the Wigan set as the “second” team. I think he’s largely got it right in front of him. The knock was that he was not looking like playing the Norwich side until forced to. Even though his preferred team/set-up started the season looking outclassed from the second half of the Hull game on.

    I understand persisting in something you think is right to give it a chance to come right. The number of games is mentioned as a yardstick to how long is too long.

    Anyway, it goes round and round.

  21. I wouldn’t worry much about Bruce getting the boot, that’s in Xia’s hands. He’s got millions from Villa either way. I hope he succeeds. I do agree with those that argue if there’s no improvement to be seen, he’d best go. No longer worried if we don’t go up this year. Need to see improvement. That is the important thing. Progress.

  22. JL- Adama was sold also by Barcelona? are they fools too? As I said there was a money element and we tried to shift some high earners like Gabby and Richards to no avail he was one we could, There was also Round, Brian little, Wyness and Clarke involved in that window, I don’t think for one minute it was all RDM’s doing. Just as Bruce has his hands tied to an extent now over who he can keep due to demand for the players and the need to lower wages. We always want to keep exciting players, I liked him but he barely featured for Middlesbrough in the prem and they got relegated.


    My biggest criticism of Bruce is his tactics and coaching ability, how many times do we have to hear “they don’t understand what I want”? the players in Jan don’t seem to after months and the experienced players don’t either it seems. something stinks.

  23. The two games we scored 8 in were achieved in entirely different ways, the Norwich game was him having his hand forced through absentees and in your own words a poor Norwich defence (ours wasn’t far behind).

    The Wigan game was wigans second 11 and ours he basically carried on with the youth team in the cup plus all the players Villa wanted in the shop window before the window closed, it was like a buy one get one free sale. Both games however did show we could if good chances were created put them away. The problem IMO is Bruces own tactics do not produce what we saw in those games, it was totally uncharacteristic of his time here (possibly as he had lost his rag ) his own tactics produce Bristol and Brentford type results with this side.

  24. The Oft-quoted 44 Games

    Since we seem to love analysis (I don’t, I go more by instinct and inductive logic), I thought I’d break down those matches just to see what the reality is:

    First thing is, I make it 41 (league) matches + 3 cup games. The following is about the league matches as the cup matches were with quite different players:

    1. First 17 matches (to end-January) were essentially with the squad he inherited, which I didn’t think that much of, but that’s just my view.
    2. Next 18 matches (to end of 2016-17) were a suck-it-and-see period were some failed and others didn’t, with the new players. The combination of Lansbury and Hourihane clearly didn’t work, nor did Hogan fit into the pattern. We also had injuries.
    3. The summer – spent unloading players for various reasons and acquiring new ones.
    4. 6 games in the new season so far, again with new players and less Jedi, Codger and Grealish to date. A hit-and-miss period so far, the main highlight being the trial of the youngsters and getting an immediate 4-goal response.

    With the Jedi and Codger only just returning and Snodgrass arriving and staking their claims that means more readjustment to get over.

    Apart from injuries you could say it’s all part of the manager’s job. But I say we are – in reality – only just now getting to a state of what could be described as normalcy after all the change-arounds since last January (24 matches), let alone the state of the club when Bruce arrived.

    Anyway … UTV! 🙂

  25. JL- So are you saying that there can be no other outcome to this period? would not the ideas and personality of a different coach change time scales and perceptions within the club if successful? If a manager was able to come to conclusions about his tactics and set up quicker would it not change things? In short is the managers approach not important?

    Considering that RDM also suffered all the things you have outlined, new players, injured players, half his match time without our best players (adoamah,kodjia an jedinak), Very little time to try different things, unmotivated squad to begin with and more pressure than Bruce is under would we be in the same position today if we had kept him?
    If he had had his entire squad available pre- season or even from game one (as Bruce did) I think by game 6 our scoring and defensive woes would of been sorted simply by having Jedi, adomah and Kodjia settled in.

    To my mind having experienced players was supposed to be the short cut to stability so that we start the season well, not another bedding in period. Leeds for example have changed manager( no champs experience) and 15+ players in and similar out and are going great guns.

  26. MK,

    As I said, perhaps my way of thinking is different. We are with Bruce – no-one else – and in him (for the time being at least) we have to trust whether we like it or not! 🙂

    And as I have been saying over-and-over, no other club of such size has been through the trauma of the last 7 years. It’s bound to have had an effect, but we’ll come out of it, and quite soon i.m.o.

  27. Thought it was interesting to see Kodjia turn provider with the youth team last night, was this yet again a hint that our players perform differently around players with a different ethos to Steve Bruces fear based defensive tactics? Delaney is the team coach.

  28. JL- I hope so mate, I have no bother with Bruce if he does what he is supposed to be capable of even though the way he goes about things bares little relation to what I am increasingly seeing employed elsewhere to good effect. The uplift we are hoping for looks like arriving yet again with Kodjia and Jedi and maybe the sidelined Adomah. Bruce knew he would not have them to start the season and that we surely cannot put our eggs in the one basket again, if it suddenly all comes good I feel it is in spite of his efforts not because of.

  29. I wonder how long it will be before De-laet gets a game, I am very impressed with him, he has quality, maybe more than any other defender we have, for me its him or Bree at RB and I must admit I would like to see him there, I think he can be a great tutor to Bree. Another quality player from Our first champs window. Tishbola is finding his feet again at the Dons apparently played five and scored a goal too.


  30. Iana,

    Smart looking team of yours! I hope you’ll be able to take the pressure as the new manager! 😀

    Seriously, I can’t see Elmo being left out … perhaps he’ll be r-b.

  31. Iana- like the team mate. I think the Bruce reality may be emo at RB and Jedi and wheelan protecting Jt from embarrassment. I also think once kodjia is fit we will play 4231 Thor or green out left adomah right and snods behind kodjia. JT has become a liability as every team we have faced have pace and there are quicker to come.

  32. Well, dunno what to expect, but it’s obviously another big match in a short season of big matches so far.

    Circumstances have prevented me from getting a “preview” up, but I’ll try getting a fresh page up for wailing and gnashing of teeth or relief and ecstasy during and after the game.

  33. what do i want?
    a flukey win that keeps bruce or a thumping to see the end of him and his teamsheet
    what is it 451 or 541 with jedi playing behind equally as slow jt

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