Here it is, the run-in: the eight-game stretch that will either set Villa up for promotion or see us crying in our beers. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how long the path behind us seems. All the ups and downs, twists and turns. Looking forward, it’s almost equally hard to believe how quickly it will all come to an end.

It’s also hard to believe how quickly things can change. Where Villa were not so long ago briefly in second, we’re now 10 points off the pace and sitting fourth.

I suppose it’s all settled down to just about what most of us expected. And if the run-in ends up being about where Villa finish in the playoff spots, well, there are worse things.

What’s tricky about the run-in is that we’ll play five of these eight remaining games in just two weeks. Which is basically absurd. We go in with a seven-point buffer over Derby. Where we come out? Anyone’s guess.

At first, one tends to see it through the lens of how it could be a negative for Villa that so many important games get played in such a small window. However, one also sees that given Villa have a deeper squad than many other sides, it could, for once, be a positive, especially since we’ve come back from the break with a fully healthy squad, bar something or other with Glenn Whelan. Even Johnathan Kodjia appears to be available, which, if he isn’t rushing things, can’t hurt. Unless we change things round again to accommodate him and lose the plot.

And to my mind, keeping the plot seems to be Bruce’s biggest challenge. It’s been hard for me to process the run of games before the break since I was away and couldn’t focus on them (or even see the Bolton match). Ever since our magical run came to an end and Grealish and Adomah were sidelined, we’ve seen a mixed assortment and mixed results. I’m not sure what there’s been to learn from it, especially losing two following the emphatic victory over Wolves. This means I don’t really have any idea what the plot is at this point.

Anyway, we start the final leg of the journey at Hull tonight. I’ve no idea who’ll be starting up front, or whether we’ll be seeing a 4-5-1 or more of a 4-4-2. I’m guessing the former. Also guessing we won’t see Kodjia unless we’re either comfortably ahead or in need of a moment of magic.

This is where I’d typically say that three points are vital.

But I don’t know that it really matters where we finish as long as we don’t face Fulham in the semifinals. As I think about how it could all play out, they’re the most dangerous side we could look to face. So, I’d normally think “let someone else have a go at knocking them out first.” On the other hand, would it actually be better to play them in a one-off do-or-die final, or have two bites at the apple and look to get through on aggregate?

Wish I knew. What I do know is that even as I’m thinking out loud that final positioning may not matter so much, what does matter is getting on a run. Building momentum and confidence. Settling into the best side we’ve got for what seems an inevitable playoff showdown.

So, yeah. Three points are important, not because of where we’ll sit at the end of the day but because we need to start winning again and getting some swagger about us.

Over to you.

Comments 56

  1. Team: Johnstone; Tuanazabe, Chester, Terry, Hutton; Snodgrass, Jedinak, Lansbury, Adomah; Grealish; Grabban.

    Codger on the bench as thought, with Conor, Hogan, Elmo, Bree, Onomah.

  2. That said, if he is rotating to navigate the next two weeks, I can understand. But I’d be looking for more from both. Well, I guess Jedinak is doing what he does, and I suppose he’s in there for height, but Hull look to be there for the taking, and more energy in midfield wouldn’t hurt anything.

  3. Two very poor teams so far, with Villa just having an edge, with a disappointing Adomah. Seven corners so far and nowhere near a sniff of a goal.

    Grealish being too greedy, Tuanzebe is the only bright spark so far.

  4. JG,

    Yeah, he’s just not on the pace anymore, obviously.

    Nice to see Kodjia back, but I’m not thinking that’s where change was needed most. But hopefully he’s got a moment in him.

  5. A very poor show, where in the end Hull were the better team, and unlucky not to get more out of it. Have never seen Hutton cheat so many times..!

    Bruce has lost his winning team, and on this form we will be lucky to win another game. Johnstone’s distribution and clearances were awful.

    I thought it would have been better to take Snodgrass off, switch Adomah to the right and bring Hogan on.

  6. PP
    If Hull hadn’t forgotten how to win they had us for the taking.
    Yes Bruce has lost his winning team.
    Don’t know why Codger was on as he wasn’t match fit, & it cried out for Davies.
    Still think Lansbury has as many screw ups as classy moments, not convinced, & Tuanzebe seemed a touch ponderous today.
    Maybe he ate Grabben & he didn’t agree with him.

  7. I’d simply go back to Hourihane and Bjarnason in the middle with Jack, one up top.

    I’m sure Bruce was thinking about minutes for Lansbury, but he was anonymous in the first. Bit better in the second, but still not influential enough to be out there.

    Ending up with three forwards on the pitch seems silly when we were having so much trouble creating and our hands were more than full at the back.

  8. Another crazy set of substitutions because absolutely no creativity on the bench.

    At least Lansbury did save a certain goal with his intervention, but was not able to do much more as he was not that included. All about Adomah, Snodgrass and Grealish, and all were poor.

  9. For those who have been surprised at recent events, SkySports have put the following article together before today’s match.

    It tells how SB’s form stutters historically at this time of year. Today we showed no intensity, no urgency, no quality moments that SB relies heavily on. The play offs are not a gimme with this form. SB looked worried and so he should be. We did look leggy today and resembled a dad’s army. Stated it many times, the lack of pace is alarming.

  10. SB says:

    “The more forward players we brought on to try and give us the edge, unfortunately the worse we became.”

    He didn’t learn the lesson as he repeated what he did at Bolton. Two games now he’s left us short in midfield to provide chances for numerous forwards.

  11. Thanks for that Plug, as it clearly shows Bruce’s limitations and how most of the time that just about scrapes through, nut maybe it will be a step too far this time, and where does that leave Villa….????

  12. Bruce doesn’t learn the lesson because he isn’t very good. He never has, nor ever will, manage a good football team. His teams play like he did himself…an old-fashioned clogger; similar to Allardyce

  13. It’s not a good time to have lost our mojo eh?
    Back to temazapan in the tea at half-time too.
    So many things to be critical of:
    Johnson hesitancy in collecting loose balls in the box and kicking for touch like a rugby full back.
    I’m not going to criticise him for always kicking long because that surely was a Steve Bruce tactic rather than Johnson’s poor game choices.

    Grealish had an average first half and a worse than anonymous second.

    Tuanzebe had a touch of the Onamahs. . . just not showing sufficient urgency.

    Snodgras wasn’t able to beat his full back so find a different tactic ffs.

    Hutton rushed upfield a couple of times, lost the ball and left us exposed.

    Adomah . . . . you don’t HAVE to pass every time . . . you are allowed to shoot you know!

    John Terry . . . you helped change the culture of the team and brought back the passion . . . where did it go today? Can’t you lift your team anymore?

    Finally Steve Bruce. Have you lost confidence in your team? They used to play out of defence, show creativity and teamwork, so why now revert to route one? When the players aren’t fighting for every ball as if they believe they’ll win it then when you hit it long it’s just going to come straight back to you.
    If we had ten substitutions you suspect he’d have brought on 10 centre forwards and counted on Johnson getting the ball to stick with one of them.

    We have shown we can play football with passion and skill. Where’s it gone??

  14. Bruce has run out of “How the f**k did I do that” moments.
    Back to normal. Wondering why, hand wringing, lack of inventiveness, hoof ball, park the bus, and oddly wild team selections.

  15. In short, yet another demonstration of the post-international-break blues!

    It’s always the same, is it not. They look as though they’ve come out of a deep sleep!

    Have to say that Dawson was massive for them – in everything he did.

  16. JL – Dawson was massive for them. Yet Grabban had him for pace in one race during the second half. All our midfield had to do was hit the space behind him as Hull pushed up and Hogan and Grabban had the beating of him.

    Instead they lumped the ball upto our guys in the air and it was meat and drink for Dawson. Time and again. If an ordinary Joe can see it, why can’t professional footballers whose job it is to notice such moments and react accordingly.

    Can’t see much changing for Tues night. He’ll bring in the Viking, Hourihane and maybe Whelan. And that will be about that.

  17. Looks like people around the net are finally realising Steve Bruce is pretty s**te. He’s tactically clueless.
    We needed to win that game and had two full backs who can’t attack.

    Bruce has failed. How he hasn’t been able To get this squad up automatically is beyond me.

    What is he doing playing Jack centre mid? The best footballer in the league at beating players and he plays him centre mid.

    I hate him. We will bottle the play offs

  18. frem
    it was a pity there was so much abuse given to the ones that seen through bruce from last january after new manager bounce had run out on this site from a few,so much they have stopped so many people posting ,saying that it was same on a few sites,but as you say fb has turned on bruce and his lovees

  19. I’m critical of Bruce and players when they mess up but that doesn’t make me anti-Bruce. I am still very much pro-Bruce, and grateful to him for his major part in turning this club around.
    Nobody in here was predicting automatic promotion at the start of the season and the fact that we are now disappointed that it’s slipped from our grasp is because Steve Bruce, unexpectedly, put it within our grasp in the first place.
    There were more people on here predicting a second relegation than promotion so although yesterday was awful, let’s keep it in context with just how bad this season ‘could’ have been.

  20. The important thing now is that in the remaining games, we rebuild our confidence and winning mentality and take that into the play offs.
    It’s not just Steve Bruce who needs to do that, it’s John Terry and the whole squad of players.
    We’ve seen that they are capable. Now they need to show that they have the balls for the fight.

  21. Hello folks, seems to me Steve Bruce is a dangerous man when he has options. Time and again he has tinkered until he gets it somewhere near until that changes and he is off again until it comes good. He seems to lack the foresight to see whats required, the subs lately demonstrate that.

    JC and Robbo have pointed out whats obvious to me, lets go back to what worked, and what worked the best was the team from Jan. That team is now available.

    The most glaring thing to me has been Hogans omission and what he brings to the side, tireless harassment of the defence and making runs for the team to either hit or capitalise on the space left. Grabban is just not the same player and without hogan in the side doesn’t provide a focus. Everything else good we had going cascaded back from Hogans movement, we pressed higher and played the ball on the deck and attacked quickly.

  22. Mark, I had thought exactly the same as you. Now everybody is fit, Bruce seems to have ‘too many’ options at his disposal.
    There was a fair bit of criticism of Lansbury yesterday, and yes he did make some mistakes, but in the first half I thought he was showing some good creativity and may be getting back to his best.
    He did amazingly well to get back and stifle that potential goal too.

    Having said that, we previously had a midfield combination that was working and yesterday, above all, we missed having a coherent midfield. The tactic to bypass the midfield by kicking it long almost seemed to recognise this fact.

  23. r0bb0,

    Agreed about Lansbury.

    But I rather stick more with the notion that this is just another post-break display that misfired, particularly as there was so much tippy-tappy stuff that their defence soon got the better of. They seemed to be a half a pace ahead of us.

    Hull’s football (considering where they are) was more to the point, in the second half at least.

    I expect Villa to be getting back to their better form on Tuesday, but if not then …

  24. Have to agree with MK,

    As soon as everyone started raving about Grabban, because he managed a couple of goals. Hogan lost favour, and Villa lost their way. Hogan is like a terrier, and constantly harasses the defence, giving openings for others, and Snodgrass and Adomah should have perhaps interchanged, Villa never vary their play, wondering why it is so easy for the opposition.

    Good comments from Plug, r0bb0 and Frem (great to see you commenting again).

    Where will Bruce turn to on Tuesday, and can he get a result???

  25. Paul,

    Unfortunately Hogan also runs himself into dead ends whereas I always feel that Grabban has that extra force that just might get there.

    I’d fancy Grabban lying just behind Codger next match.

    I’m sure no-one is going to agree with that! 😀

  26. Tuesday’s team:

    Gollini, Richards, Elphick, Samba, De Laet, Gardner, Veretout, Gabby, Tishbola, McCormack, Gil,

    Villa’s second bomb squad………..

  27. Evening all,

    I can’t see why everyone isn’t blaming Agnew for our drop in form? When we were winning, he was touted as the reason for getting results and Bruce had nothing to do with it. So why now we are hitting a blip, is no-one blaming Agnew but Bruce is getting all the grief?

    And Hogan cannot hold the ball up, cannot get the passes or headers where they should go ……. yes he runs around a lot and harrasses the defenders – but so did Gaby.

    We are still in the play-offs zone, which is what most of us would have settled for at the start of the season. A couple more wins and a re-bonding of a winning mentality team will take us into the play-offs proper and then maybe even further. Or isn’t Agnew up to that?! 😉

    Sometimes I wish social media hadn’t been invented so that we could all get behind our team as we used to. But we are where we are I suppose …..


  28. Old villa, you make a fair point. Over the last 3 games we’ve remained reasonably solid at the back but our attack just hasn’t been firing. If Agnew was responsible for putting it right before then he has to be equally responsible for getting it wrong now.
    Our goal scoring drought over the last 3 games equals the worst spell at any time this season . . . and is even worse than our disastrous opening 3 game spell when at least we managed to score twice.
    Maybe Xia needs to come over and kick them all up the arse again if they don’t have the pride and professionalism to do it for themselves.

  29. r0bb0,

    I would agree but I just feel that it’s the players themselves. Perhaps they’re jaded but some of the tippy-tappy stuff they were sometimes playing second-half just didn’t seem to have conviction about it.

    I’m just hoping that a stick of gelignite has been exploded up their rears to wake ’em up. Er, metaphorically of course! 😉

  30. Far to simplistic to blame Agnew when we are now not playing as we did in Jan anyway, the teams players and structure have changed and we now play long ball with Jedinak slowing the game down. He doesn’t pick the team or buy players and he won’t get the plaudits if we scrape into the prem in the end, but to say he’s had no influence is equally crazy. What we saw in Jan was previously unseen under Bruce, what we see now has been. Maybe we need to injure a few of them to give him less choice.

  31. In fact I was watching that programme that Paul told us about regarding the days when England virtually owned the European Cup. Graeme Souness was interviewed and said that then players were expected to be professional enough to know what was required of them and go and do it.

    I see too little of that attitude now. Too much coaching?

  32. JL – Too much coaching?

    I struggle to follow the coaching at times. All goalkeepers (not just ours) these days seem to boot the ball to the half way touch line when clearing their lines. More than half the time the ball goes out for a throw in. What is the thinking behind this tactic? Why is this better than booting it down the middle? Nobody asks these questions during the post match interviews. But it’s obviously drilled into them.

    Coming to the game against Reading I’m interested to see if SB picks Codger. Negative, and I’ll believe he must have half a plan to get the 3 points. Affirmative and it will confirm (to me at least) that he’s got no plan at all and is hoping against hope that Codger can somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat. If it’s the latter, we’re sunk.

  33. Plug- a good few months back I looked at Bruces promotion years and other years and I came to the same conclusion that the sky article did, Bruces teams seem to lurch from great runs to baffling slumps, it just so happens in some of those seasons he’s been promoted and in some he’s been relegated or scraped survival or had a half decent season, he’s provided sometimes the best and others the worst seasons for his clubs but they all follow a roller coaster pattern. In other words theres inconsistency of some sort at play.

    International breaks seem to signal poor results whys that? does this happen to all his teams? or just us at this point? we are now into our third maybe fourth slump(?) this season the players available have made little difference, we have done as well with a big injury list and much moaning as we have with a fit squad, We are now at that point in the season his promotion expertise should be coming up trumps if he has some kind of Final push plan yet we seem to be following the same old pattern but maybe thats just how it goes for Bruce.

    All we can hope is we come good for the finals if we make it as Hull did against Derby who had thrashed them during the season.

  34. I’m all for a stick of gelignite up SB’s a*se.
    Just don’t want to be anywhere near it when it goes off as the outside is bad enough.

  35. would really love it if all these bruce fans could write down what bruce has turned round at villa,just look at last team we put out 4 loans starting and 2 that wont be here next year along with 1 each on bench ,our good run came with hogan houirane and birr in team 2 of them dropped to bench the other didnt even make it really good morale building by bruce this along with treatment of bree,about 20m worth of bruce buys been hung out to dry

  36. Mark: ” he’s provided sometimes the best and others the worst seasons for his clubs but they all follow a roller coaster pattern.”

    That comment didn’t fit with my recollection of Bruce’s statistics so I took another look.

    In no instance has this been anywhere near true. . . . . well, the first bit of your statement is but he has never provided anything like the worst season for any of the teams he’s managed.

    I think part of the reason that it’s easy to get that impression is because of the nature of the club’s he’s managed. Until Villa, they have all been smaller clubs who hover around the fringes of the premiership in their best years (usually under Bruce). If they drop out of the premiership under his stewardship it feels like a bad year although in reality it’s only reverting to something closer to a normal year for them.

  37. Good post-match stuff. Not sure a review’s needed, but I wrote one, so it’s up.

    Look for a late preview for Reading, maybe just before kick-off. For the sake of less scrolling, if nothing else.

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