Following the hard-fought point Villa rescued against Leeds, the side turned in a rather underwhelming performance against Millwall last week, and Villa were lucky to get a point in the 0-0 affair. I was taking notes during the game, but then I stopped. There wasn’t really much notable going on.

My basic takeaway was that if nothing else, we got outworked. We looked in good shape for about 10 minutes or so in the first half, and if we’d scored then, who knows. But we didn’t.

So, due to Millwall’s profligacy, we got away with a point. Sheffield United have hit a rough spot so we’re sitting fifth, level with them on points, and travel to now fourth-placed Derby to try and get back on track. The Rams’ four wins in their last five have seen them climb one point and one spot above us.

Ah, the Championship. Normally, you wouldn’t necessarily be fretting at a run of three wins followed by two draws. But in a league where at least one team seems to run away with it each year with another not far behind, every point counts. Sometimes a draw is a good result. But you can’t have many poor draws in such a competitive environment.

When you look at the stats, and scorelines, the obvious issue is that Villa are goal-shy. Of the top 10 sides, only Middlesbrough (27) and Preston NE (25) have scored fewer than Villa’s 29. We’ve got a decent differential at +11, but still find ourselves 14 points off the pace Wolves are setting. Fortunately, Cardiff are a bit closer at seven points away. But making up those seven points is the trick.

Whatever Bruce’s tactical preferences, Villa aren’t fielding a very threatening front line at the moment, and it’s a bit of chicken and egg in terms of how the set-up, available players and Bruce’s approach are impacting results.

What I can say is this: We’re not easy to beat, only the top three sides have lost fewer games, but we’re still not ticking over.

I’ll also say it’s true that our depth has been tested. Perhaps this is about as good as we could’ve expected, given the absence of a true danger man up front.

Adomah has been outstanding, but we always figured he wasn’t the sort who was going to keep scoring for fun. Snodgrass, virtually no return in front of goal. Davis is being asked to do a lot, and hasn’t taken the two or three opportunities that have come to him over the last couple matches.

Now we’ve got Hogan back, giving us a true striker once again, but one we can’t seem to play to. Perhaps Grealish can strike up an understanding with him. I really don’t know. O’Hare doesn’t figure into the equation, apparently. Which is a shame. He brings something different, and the side seemingly could use that. Of all the players available, the one who has seemed able to give Hogan the right sort of service in the past is Elmohamady. And the upcoming window isn’t looking terribly promising in terms of solutions.

For today, Grealish is getting the start over Davis. Elmo returns at right back, Hourihane’s in with Lansbury out, and Mile is stepping into the back line. Onomah and Whelan remain. Hogan and Gabby are on the bench.

As Villa head into the congestion of festive fixtures, this would be a fantastic time to see Grealish take the bit. We need creativity, guile and threat in the middle. He can tick those boxes. And really, our fortunes might well depend on him. It’s obvious, of course, but Villa could well be out of the playoff mix come January if we don’t find some wins against the teams up around us, starting today. I haven’t given up on second, by the way, but I’m not necessarily seeing it happen.

So if nothing else, I’m looking at the next two fixtures to tell us something about our prospects if we do make the playoffs, and I’m hoping to come away encouraged. We’re Villans, and that’s what we do.

Over to you.

Comments 58

  1. This is a weird team selection & bench – no kids

    Mile Jedinak comes in at centre back and Ahmed Elmohamady at right-back, while Conor Hourihane returns and Jack Grealish starts for the first time this season.

    Sam Johnstone, Elmohamady, James Chester, Jedinak and Neil Taylor make up the the back five.

    Then it’s Robert Snodgrass, Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane, Albert Adomah, Josh Onomah and Grealish.

    Jed Steer, Alan Hutton, Ritchie De Laet, Tommy Elphick, Birkir Bjarnason, Gabby Agbonlahor and Scott Hogan make up the substitutes.

  2. JC- I am expecting us to break quickly with no real target man we should see Onamah and Horihane joining Adomah on the break with Grealish providing the bullets, heres hoping.

  3. It really is. The only combination that works is down the left, Taylor, Hourihane, Adomah and Grealish working together. But we keep working ourselves into too-tight spaces, and then playing it square or backward.

  4. JC- can’t blame them when the default is long ball to the CF and chase I suppose, just shows that there is naff all drilled into the team about pass and move in training.

  5. do think at some point we will stop crossing to nobody at head height? we have nobody with aerial presence therefore we need to get wide and pull the ball back to feet or quick one twos through their defence, ohare would suit this game

  6. thank you bruce now just trot on ,never good enough to manage our club,doc you have to act bruce has signed 15 players and we are awful ooamh snodgrass complete wasters,elmo makes hutton look average ,whelan i said when we signed him he was cr*p ,bruce out

  7. I am beginning to think that Mr Bruce’s tactics are suited to underdogs not the likes of Villa in this league, if teams see us as the FA cup final then we have to play like we are in one and try to win not hope to.

  8. Well, I think we all saw that coming. Glad for Weimann, he is a favourite of mine. I like his character on the pitch.
    Bruce doesn’t deal well with adversity and I’m thinking it drips down into the team by osmosis. There are too many good players who are having the life sucked out of them by Bruce. Granted there are a lot of injuries ATM but a better performance should have happened. Do you think the players are losing confidence in him? Holding back in case of being turned inside out?
    As to my post last week about Mick if he had a better back 4. They are 2nd in goals scored. Ipswich is going to be a dark horse this season.

  9. Ian,

    Good comments. The players put in the effort today, but we not allowed to play the way they should have done. Onomah up front was a joke selection. Gabby should have been up front to pressurise Curtis Davis, and would have made a much better partner for Grealish.

    Whelan, had a good game, apart from his nightmare back pass, but is that because of the negative tactics, and pressure on him. On the other hand it is certainly not the first time. Perhaps O’Hare should have been starting instead.

  10. Ian- lose the next one and Ipswich win we are out of the top 6 and they are in.

    You just have to ask why Brentford can get 13 goals in half a season out of Hogan and Bruce can’t get hardly 1. Hogan is the stark contrast in styles played by Bruce and the rest generally. When asked to break a team down we can’t, I can only assume we don’t practise that on BMH.

  11. Bruce’s best before date is past. Every manager he comes up against says he puts out a team that’s hard to play against. Never do they have a big concern about Villa scoring on them just that they will have to be patient while trying to score themselves. Even a decent counter attack is history.

  12. Bruce will be gone by Monday morning…

    For a manager, near to tears blaming his players, without actually naming Whelan, is a sign of a manger that has lost the plot. He made enough excuses in the Press conference prior to the game, about the Millwall result, in that he did not have any “big men” to combat them.

    Cannot see the good Dr tolerating that. If he had manned up and admitted that he had got it wrong, and that he would make sure that it would not happen again, you could respect him a little.

  13. JC – Whatever Bruce’s tactical preferences, Villa aren’t fielding a very threatening front line at the moment

    Has he ever since his appointment? Come to that, he doesn’t include much threat on the bench either.

    JC – Now we’ve got Hogan back, giving us a true striker once again, but one we can’t seem to play to

    Wonder if Bruce has ever asked him whether he prefers 1 or 2 up front and what type of service he thrives on.

    I’ve given up on P2 because it is out of reach with this team that he keeps selecting. It’s now a dog fight to make P6. Also heard reports that Onomah may be recalled by Spurs in January. Is Poch watching him regress and wants him back for corrective coaching?

    2-0 is a sound defeat. Like last week it could have been worse. SB is running out of time. Why doesn’t he try the kids and lower the age of the team with some young legs?

  14. N o killer instinct. A circle the wagon mentality. Frightened to step out of his ever decreasing comfort zone. Reliance on the keeper. Blaming players. Sowing doubt. Not manning up. Giving platitudes. Soothing his shortcomings with his salary.
    Time to go.

  15. pp
    didnt watch interview with bruce,but could have guessed what he would say
    playing ooamh was utter madness apart from 2 deflected goals be honest guys he has done sweet fa, at least if it was o hare doing it he would be learning
    watching snodgrass is like watching a snail go along the path, even his easy chance he didnt bury it

  16. Ian
    Bet you a tenner he won’t be sacked.
    Not that what you say isn’t accurate
    Plug – no disputing what you say either.
    What are the solutions that are likely to be looked at?
    Dig in & wait for reinforcements & keep the U23’s hidden is likely

  17. IanG
    Yes. Have to say a cloud of uncertainty has descended on Villa. I really don’t know what’s wrong with the U23 players. Why aren’t they played more often? What has O’Hare done to play himself out of contention?
    It sounds like the team played hard but lacked teeth. Young Davis was sick. More red complexions for Steve Bruce. December might be his last full month at Villa.

  18. Looks like Onomah might be going back to the spuds, as Bruce seems intent on destroying his confidence by playing him as centre forward & generally not giving him a break & blooding our U23s

  19. IanG
    You’re right he won’t be gone just yet but the door is open.
    I think he has taken Villa as far as he can. Part of the problem is the schedule to return to the Prem. It’s too unrealistic. If it was a five year plan for instance there would be less pressure to not lose than to win. A different atmosphere would be present in the locker room. Less reliance on players in form and more integration of the whole team would be happening. Players should be able to slot in without much difficulty and this hasn’t happened due to their lack of first team football. Bruce’s trust in the U23’s and other notable players is low due to their lack of first team football. It’s a real catch 22. He has to bite the bullet and give them a proper go regardless of the results that might happen. Xia’s expectations need to to be mollified to allow Bruce the ability to do this to build a more confident and strong team.
    Unreal expectations are forcing Bruce’s hand and that coupled with his more cautious approach will produce a choked off team who has, IMO reached their limit for this season.

  20. Ian- Bruce is at Villa because of his supposed ability to get promotion not his coaching, club building or long term vision he is a means to an end and was unemployed at the time (quite an attractive thing as we were Skint or soon to be). I suspect the money situation has been behind a lot of the decisions made by Xia and hence the time scale and pressure. The build three teams rhetoric shows this mentality too instead of build a team involving our youth much more giving us a basis to start from and survive with if the promotion isn’t achieved over two seasons and our income drops a lot. Next season if still in this league we wont be able to afford a JT and we sold a baker,short sighted and quite a risk considering where we were.

  21. Interesting to see Chris Coleman doing the same with Sunderland, as he did with Wales, blooding his youngsters with good effect.

    It is a pity when Bruce was forced to use his youngsters, and they succeeded, that he did not continue with them, except for Davis. I am sure that O’Hare and one or two more on the bench would have relished their chances to come off the bench with twenty minutes to go in the last three matches, at least.

    Bruce’s lack of tactics, make Villa one of the easiest teams to prepare against, and try to beat, when there is no attacking threat. Adomah has had a great patch, but it could not last forever, neither could Kodjia, or many of our previous strikers. Always too much reliance on one man.

  22. Can anybody tell me why Landsbury wasn’t in the squad for the Derby game?…injured?
    I think he could clear the decks new year and get rid of the likes of Hogan, Bjornson and Landsbury,(£40k per week). They haven’t reaally stepped up. Unless I’ve missed something.

  23. archie
    who is going to buy players from our club after the wages bruce gave them last january along with,elphik what chance have we of selling him when bruce rates jedi a better centre half [saturdays performance says other wise], people crack on about bruce has made money for villa on transfer i dont for me he has sold the family silver and replaced it with ratners cr*p
    gollina elphik delaet tisc ross all bought by the doc for about 25m today would be worth 5m due to bruces man management skills
    30m spent last janauary be lucky to get half back,never mind the bargains whelan elmo
    last summer

  24. Archie- you certainly have missed something the manager can’t use those players effectively in his system or doesn’t seem to know how to set up to get the best from them, and he bought them. I think JG is right we will struggle to shift them on the wages they came in on, longish contracts too.

  25. Doesnt make sense, he’s not picking them to play in this division, for his own reasons and there not good enough for the Premiership if we get promoted. Me, I’m baffled.
    Tell me this, does Onamah go back to his parent club in Jan or have we got him for the season. I heard he was cr@p on Saturday.

  26. archie
    ooamah is here for season unless spurs want him returned,possibly to get him away from spuds fantastic coaching skills, and bar couple deflected goals its months since ooamh had a good game in our shirt

  27. Bruce is another Lambert creating a bomb squad, and alienating payers, and not using the young players at his disposal. It is all about building a “Bruce team”, rather than a team for the good of Aston Villa.

    Archie, Lansbury did not play because he made Lansbury play the previous match, when he was not fully fit, thinking he would be great, having scored a goal, and dropped Hourihane, then admitted that perhaps he was wrong, once again. Lansbury was of course, injured, and Hourihane back in then for Derby.

    Only a complete drongo would play a young lad like Onomah, who was already lacking confidence, at centre forward, a position he had never played before against Curtis Davis.

    Interesting Football on 5 referring to the Derby spine that Rowett has at Derby in Scot Carson , Curtis Davis and Vydra. Almost a former Villa spine, with Weimann now in a position to play in his natural position and crack in the goals.

    Villa seem to love giving players away, rather than fully developing them.

  28. Archie- makes me wonder weather he chose them but then I have heard him wax lyrical about wanting Hogan before Brentford bought him, Thor I would say is right up his street hard working and energetic. Talk of an Onamah recall but no great loss if continued to be used in the way he is.
    Jack showed up well on Saturday and I’m amazed he’s been kept out as he was fit way before lansbury who’d had little match time before starting.

    PP- its a personal bug bear of mine, we seem to develop good players to a point then their education stops at 1st team level or they get no chance. A failing of having the wrong sort or to many managers and no ethos.

  29. The Times and The Gazette are running with stories that pretty much confirm that another face will be joining the team at Bodymoor Heath. Agnew helped Bruce guide Hull to success before leaving to join Middlesbrough as assistant to Aitor Karanka. After Karanka was sacked, Agnew was then made manager of Middlesbrough, but was de-assigned following their relegation to the Championship and the hiring of Garry Monk.

  30. Mark
    That’s what I feel in my bones also.
    Still a little room for extra good fortune or the opposite, but will know for sure by the new year.

  31. Mark,

    Fairly accurate description of SB’s current situation on that article in 7500 to the Holte. What it tells me is we should achieve a top 6 spot, fail to gain promotion and SB gets the chop. Looks like he’ll be with us until May.

  32. mark
    would watford /wolves or any other club let bruce stick it out or would they roll dice and hope new manager bounce would lift us all the way to promised land

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