First off, hope all of you celebrating Christmas in one way or another had a good one. Ours got off to a not-so-good start when we awoke Christmas morning to find the furnace wasn’t working. Cue all sorts of well-intentioned troubleshooting that impacted last-minute present wrapping, preparation for guests (aka, me vacuuming and mopping floors, while Jenny did the important bits in the kitchen), and the overall serenity one likes to have for an hour or so that morning.

Much hilarity ensued when we eventually puzzled it all out and discovered the root cause was my son turning off the furnace because he thought the internal disconnect switch was a light switch. And lo, there was heat.

Anyway, we had a wonderful day with family and friends that I hope was echoed in all your homes and lives. In the end, it’s not the day so much as the opportunity it presents to celebrate the simple things that make life good. I’ve had some lousy Christmases sprinkled in over the years, as do we all from time to time, but this was one of the keepers.

Which brings me back to football. Fat and happy (you don’t want to know how much butter was involved), lounging around on a frigid Boxing Day morning, I reflect back on the day before Christmas Eve. Villa looked to be off on a romp, and ended up with yet another draw. And it’s the draws that are killing us.

We all know, of course, that Mile Jedinak was largely the unfortunate author of our ‘demise’, two particular pieces of play outweighing his first goal for Villa. And we all know that Jedinak being put in that position is summation of many things, not least of which are: a mishmash of signings over three windows and two managers; John Terry’s absence as part of the injury parade; lack of suitable cover at the position; and Steve Bruce’s obstinacy/judgment.

It’s sometimes all too much to untangle. You’d like to think we wouldn’t have to. But it’s never easy for Villa, is it?

I’ve advocated sticking with a side that’s producing results. But when that stops working, or injuries mess with the plan, you have to adapt. Bruce’s version of adaptation is different than mine…and indeed, that of many other fans.

I’ve seen a few permutations offered up that make sense to me, but not Bruce. In the rather obvious and simple vein, he could be playing DeLaet at CB. We could have Hogan getting a full run-out and seeing whether he can flourish with Grealish in the mix. Not even going to get into anything more complicated.

In none of my conjectures does Gabby ever feature. Even on the bench, he’s taking a spot that I’d wager Callum O’Hare would do much more with. But of course Gabby is injured once again, so we can go back to ignoring potential sparks of life for some other reason.

Bruce persists with Whelan, who does the Westwood thing but more slowly, and while I’ve been trying to see Whelan’s virtues in terms of impact, I’m afraid his one assist in 22 appearances isn’t helping much. Maybe 1.9 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game is helping. But Hourihane is averaging 2.4 tackles and 1 interception, and even Josh Onomah has 2.0 tackles per game, and Snodgrass 1.8 (with six assists). Adomah? He’s averaging 2.9 tackles. No assists for Albert, but there is the small matter of 11 goals. In short (no pun intended), I continue to have trouble seeing how Whelan’s pushing us forward.

Now of course, that’s focusing in on one player, and I do it not to pick on Whelan, per se, but to give a little context to evaluating Bruce’s buys and selections. There are certain players he wants on the pitch.

Perhaps, all things considered, Villa really are at their ceiling right now. Or, perhaps this is our ceiling under Bruce, but isn’t what our ceiling ultimately could be. He’s spent roughly £14.5 million on Hogan, Bree, and Bjarnason, and £17.5 million if you throw in Lansbury. That would seem to be money we could desperately use right now, and if you have £9.5 million of that outlay invested in Hogan, you might be trying a little harder to get him the ball. We know injuries have interrupted Hogan and Lansbury, but before that they weren’t contributing much either. In Hogan’s case, we have the matter of service. Lansbury? He didn’t cost a fortune, and I’ve seen it said he’ll be available in January to free up funds, but you get the idea. We’re battling with a number of teams whose entire side was bought for less. Why buy Bree for £3 million, just to spend close to another £1 million to have Elmohamady knock him down the pecking order?

And of course, we go back to the bit where Adomah wouldn’t even be playing if it weren’t for injuries, and that it’s also not Bruce’s fault that Kodjia isn’t available, and that Di Matteo spent over £18 million on McCormack and Tshibola alone. Two managers, £35 million, and one starter out of the lot. Reminds me of another era with a new owner, open pocketbook, and profligate, scattershot spending.

Moving along, we’ll travel to down to 12th-placed Brentford for tonight’s game sitting eighth and needing a win to get back up to sixth. Brentford only have six fewer points than we, and I’m wondering what they’ve spent. Davis and Hourihane are out, Elphick is in at the back, Jedinak and Whelan are in the middle, and Hogan and Grealish are up front. Hutton comes in for Elmo. The official site is showing it as a 4-4-2, and maybe it will be, but it smells more like a 4-4-1 to me.

Doesn’t sound terribly attacking to me, and looks a bit old and shaky in the middle. We’ll see.

Over to you.

Comments 49

  1. another half of awful football,bit of class from hogan who put in a cross that someone could head it,brentford taking hutton to cleaners ,who in all fairness is getting no help from snodgrass

  2. Said months ago hogan needs a big ron type manager to say son you are defo playing the next 10 games, go and smash it.

    Hogans never had a constsnt run. Lets at least give him chance to fail!

    Rubbish first half in a must win game.

  3. hogan is crying out for davies as a partner someone to split the work with,we have no width since albert went off,2 fullbacks probably worst crossers of the ball,not easy for hogan to score

  4. Good leader JC, and glad that it is being a Xmas to remember for you. For me, it is a very quiet one once again, maybe next year it will liven up and Villa will be doing great things.

    Well Bruce’s idea of freshening things up is a bit of a joke, but Elphick is doing ok, and wonder why he has not been in before. Now we have reached half time, the back four seemed more settled, and Hogan is doing ok up front, if he can get some service.
    Onomah is doing ok with Jack, and let’s hope they can produce some magic in the second half. Still not looking like a game with win written all over it, but who knows, maybe we can snatch it.

  5. Hey lads.Thanks JC for providing a leader on Crimbo day.Poor Brucie,he hasn’t wasted all the ££ but he has made a huge demt in it.Reminds me of MON buys players but won’t use them or doesn’t know how to utilise them.Similar tactics too.Millions on strikers but 2 shots on target….not long now Steve get yer coat son.

  6. What a shambles again…..

    Davis for Whelan, when we needed Hourihane to supply the through balls for Hogan, Taylor lofting a cross to Davis when a simple through ball to Hogan, who was in the clear, would have been a certain goal.

    The final joke was El Mohamady for Elphick….

    If Bruce remains any longer we will be down with scum…!!

  7. Bereft of ideas. Jack the only bright spot. Guess Hogan getting involved is good.

    Andrew, don’t disagree. We’ve no other options up front right now, might as well give Hogan a run, see if we can’t figure it out.

  8. Well when you go out with two DM’s it kind of sets up the stall, two old ones at that, to slow against a very young and well drilled team, full of ideas and energy, Bruce has just said we have the quality out there still to be playing better even with the injuries except we don’t? no energy Steve, we have no energy about us, they look like one foots in the grave.

    Brasil, sad thing is we are in to deep now and he will be here until the summer and I cannot see the management making a brave and correct appointment, should of got smith last season, he would walk over coals to manage us. Where are these experienced players that can control the game? shambles.

  9. I still feel (as I said on here before the start of the season) that we’ll end up between 6th and 8th.
    At that time i was seen as an optimist but feel free to pretend that we’re now doing so much worse than you all predicted we would.
    If John Terry was still fit we’d have won our last game.
    We were on top and really unlucky not to at least draw at the end of today’s game so it seems to me that the substitutions weren’t so bad after all.
    We’re going through a bad patch for sure but it’s not yet the end of the world and I can still imagine us having a strong end to the season and ending up in, or close to the play offs.
    At least I’m consistent.

  10. Robbo- I said we would run into trouble once the easy games were over which they are, do I get any points for that? 😉

    Can’t win games on the basis of having imaginary players fit, thats where Bruce earns or doesn’t earn his crust and he’s not. Unless we solve our goal scoring and chance creation we will continue to flounder. Teams are coming good all around us while we get worse it seems.

  11. still don’t know y onamynous, and shodgrass, are being picked. i still hope we go up. with or without Bruce. 2 dm’s, asking for trouble. someone tell spud attack is the best firm of attack. 3rd time under Dean smith that Brentford have dealt with us. Dean Smith should be the next villa mgr. plays the right way, works with peanuts, and is a villa man.

  12. Hey Mark, since points are scarce when it comes to point from the missus, I’ll give you 100. Don’t waste them. Worth nothing at home

  13. r0bb0,

    Don’t think you’re wrong…not sure many had us down as automatics, certainly. I would’ve thought 4th-6th, with it all being tight in there.

    Main thing for me is that I still don’t really see us playing much better. Injuries do play a part, for sure.

  14. Ian- Thanks mate I’ll put them under my secret floor board with my porn mags 😉

    JC- I think a certain Doc Xia had us down for certs, wonder what he’s thinking right now? chants of Bruce out at the end tonight. How long can you can’t play like that be an excuse? think he should change his name to Steve Teflon.

  15. rogermuffin,

    Don’t really understand putting Jedi and Whelan in there together, either. Perhaps a case of trying to spell Hourihane, but you’re never going to get much closing or pressure from either player.

  16. Mark,

    The good doctor has pulled a Lerner, perhaps.

    As far as “individual errors” go, he’s not wrong, they are costing us, but I think you have to start by not selecting players who keep making those costly errors.

    The ‘experience’ isn’t turning draws into wins.

  17. John,
    The potential to play a lot better is there. Bruce just doesn’t or can’t unlock that potential.
    Ie: DeLaet premier league winner
    Multi goal scorers Hogan and McCormack,
    Great youth not used
    Great mid field done wrong
    Selling the future, Carles Gil, Baker,toner,Carothers.

    It’s not just Bruce it’s beengoing on for years

  18. jc
    delaet is to good player not to be playing
    jedi /whelan should never be in same team
    adoamh going off davies should went up front with hogan
    ohara should be in squad birr is here almost a year what a waste of money
    i am mad again watching a villa team putting in no effort ,but how can snodgrass put in effort looks to be on gabbys diet

  19. JC- You can see the life drain out of Hogan as the game goes on, same pattern at the start, five mins of having go then sit back until we concede. We seem to not try for a good 60% of matches, If JT is the answer to our problems then Bruce surely is redundant?

    I heard a comment earlier by a commentator on talk sport about the difference between us and Brentford, he described us as being a big club who expects to go up with a celebrity manager, sounds about right to me.

  20. Kind of like a triangular pie deep fried with any kind of filling usually spicy with a dipping sauce.
    Funnily enough it’s not on any training tables I know of. Maybe Bruce’s dinner table

  21. Bruce looked a broken man when interviewed on Sky sports after the game. He had no answers…no excuses…and was honest about it…they were the words of a guy getting the sack in the morning….
    Middlesboro’ will be his last game… wins in December ….

  22. Hello All!
    Good leader. It was prophetic concerning today’s match. Chairman Xia has quite a dilemma, which he wouldn’t have if Villa were winning. SB does seem obstinate. Why is it other teams can move the ball forward quicker and more accurately than Villa?
    Villa did seem to come alive in the last 10. Brentford does have a reputation for losing games at that stage of the game, so kudos to them.
    Jack Grealish looked composed on the ball. AH got some good balls in, Hogan did pretty well. I feel sorry for Steve Bruce, the battler he’s been. Sadly, I think getting Villa up this year is a bridge too far. There is still a mathematical chance and we know the team has the talent. It seems the decision makers are the main weakness. Hope springs eternal for Villans. What will Chairman Xia do?

  23. Ian,

    Agreed. Don’t really understand much of it, just that these are players who’ve done better elsewhere. Always back to the mismatched parts analogy.

    I really do wonder how much worse off we’d be if we’d just gone ahead and played as many of the most senior Academy players we could, those who are mature enough. At the least they play like they know each other and look to get forward, etc., and quickly.

  24. JG,

    Can’t argue about DeLaet, or the Whelan-Jedi pairing. That almost felt like a white flag going up. I suppose you could say Bruce was maybe looking to steady the ship, rotate, etc., and that all might be true. But it’s a bit over the hill for this league, and put all the pressure to create on Grealish.

  25. Mark,

    Yeah, Hogan was full of energy early, great assist, pity about the offside. He obviously could’ve used that one. And then he just disappeared completely from the game.

    In preseason, it seemed like Elmo was the one wide man who put in the sorts of balls Hogan could get onto.

  26. Cheers, Trinity.

    Wish it hadn’t been anywhere near prophetic. For a while I was thinking, “There we go, if I criticize a player, he goes and does well.”

    Likewise, I feel badly for Bruce. He’s got the lion’s share of responsibility to shoulder, but he’s not a bad guy and is simply doing what he knows. He’s had success doing it his way, so why not. But for all the dossiers and promotions, he’s just not seeming like the right man for this job.

    As always, would love to be wrong. I’m the last person that wants him to fail. And he’s not the first Villa manager that’s had me wondering what’s the disconnect between him and the players.

  27. I have seen enough. Time for Villa to stand SB down and invite JT to be player/manager with a remit to lower the first team’s average age by a distance. Promotion isn’t going to happen this season so give JT some time. In the last 12 months I haven’t noticed much improvement under SB, if any.

    Last night was so lacking in pace and energy. We did not have any, in a league that is full of it. The plodders carried on plodding. Feel sorry for Hogan. He thrives on service into space behind the back 4 which is on the deck not in the air. But that’s nowhere to be seen.

  28. plug- it seems like we are playing to the same script each match, 5 mins at the start, 10 mins to equalise and ten of desperation at the end. Time to wake up and realise that all around us are younger pacier teams who seem to magically know how to get at us and keep us out, better coached and fitter.

  29. MK – I think it could get quite ugly quite quickly. All eyes are on the owner and board members. Not sure about Dean Smith being the man though. He may struggle with players that have big ego’s. I mean, how do you motivate millionaires? I’d happily run with JT.

  30. Plug- that depends on whether they have any will to get us up mate, that is what they were brought in for, you might find that a manager that gives them a plan sets them free. I think adhering to Bruces style is just hampering us. You have to say that at times this season we have shown some quality (not against good sides mind) last time Hourihane looked the part he played no10 against Norwich now he’s just running around at the back who in their right mind would shackle him? and nearly everyone of Johstones kicks go to the CF making Onamah redundant, so many are being played out of position, a new manager may see that and simplify our play.

    Would JT take it? he is only here because Bruce is his mate and come next season we need someone capable of having no funds and getting the best out of Hogan, Grealish, hourihane , ohare, doyle hayes, Davis and many more.

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