Here we are, the final regular-season match in what ultimately will be a defining year for Villa. At the end of the day Sunday, whatever the result, we’ll finally be coming to terms with, one hopes, three very important games.

In the meantime, there’s the matter of tomorrow’s final fixture. We know we’re fourth and have the second semifinal leg at home. Which I like. Looks like Boro will be fifth, which maybe I don’t like so much. But there it is and it could be worse. And then if all goes well, we’re left wondering who we’d rather play in a final. But we won’t have much choice in that, either.

As far as Millwall go, they’re out now, barring a miracle. Doesn’t mean they won’t want to show they belonged, but they could just as easily be down and somewhat indifferent. I’m thinking they’ll be ready to play, though, for the home fans.

For Villa, just like last week, it’s all about setting up for the games ahead. Rest and rotate or keep on playing as is. I think it was Calderwood who’d said before Derby that we’d be playing for momentum and confidence, but who knows what that might mean Sunday. He seemed to keep options open, saying sort of semi-contradictory things.

As I’ve said many times, I’d take the risk and keep the team as is. Like Calderwood said, you want to come out of the weekend feeling good. We won’t mention the bad things that can happen.

I also don’t know what role having a Saturday-Tuesday turnaround for the two semifinal legs will play in Bruce’s thinking. At this stage, I’d think emotion would carry the day over two legs. Players like Snodgrass, Elmohamady, and certainly John Terry know this is why they’re at Villa. Players like Grealish would very much like to get to the big stage, though if Villa fail, I’d be hard-pressed to say that Grealish won’t be playing in the PL next year anyway.

But, it has been a long season. Obviously anyone with any knock or niggle should be held out, like Bjarnason. Whatever we see, I’d simply like it to be a coherent side that is playing to win. And what we don’t want to see is a not-terribly-young Villa side needing a goal or protecting a lead, and looking leggy and nervous in the second half of the second semifinal leg.

As I’ve also said before, it’s been quite a ride. Hard to believe this is the last regular fixture, and that it will be the 46th league game of the campaign. It’s been fun, it’s been frustrating, it’s been exciting and worrisome. The win streak was a blast. We even briefly sat second, and it felt like that was the way it should be.

The supporters have been great, and the relationship with the club has been revitalized for many. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re better than they were. Low bar, of course, but it’s more than just clearing a low bar. I think Villa are getting their soul back. Will take some careful nurturing, as cases like ours can have setbacks. If we don’t go up, there’ll be a rebuild, and it might be a bit messy. If we go up, there’ll be just as much work to do.

But for now, I’m looking back at it and thinking it was worth the price of admission. Mistakes have been made, and we’re not done yet, not by any means, but before we get to the next round, it’s worth taking stock and enjoying the fact that we’re up in it, there are matches of serious consequence to come, and, well, it all means something. We’ll be going for glory for a change. Playing to win something.

And the thing is, come what may, we want to hold onto what we’ve gotten back this year.

We’ve been pointed in the right direction, and a will to win is sort of wafting around the club, instead of embarrassment and diffidence. If the feel of that can be maintained, we’ll be alright.

Speaking of which, well done the U23s winning the PL Cup. Really good job, lads, and a great example for the first team (hell, they might end up being the first team). Here’s to two playoff final victories for Villa in 2018.

And our deepest sympathies, Mr. Bruce, from all Villans everywhere. You’ve had a rough go these last few months, and you’ve kept your head up. Here’s hoping the side give you something to smile about, if only briefly, tomorrow.

Over to you.

Comments 81

  1. Well said, JC.
    It almost seems surreal, but here we are.
    As for the Millwall match, I’m hoping for a confident display and a victory from the team. For the fans, I hope they all make it home safely.
    Thank you, for writing another great leader for us, JC.

  2. Thanks JC.
    I seem to be enjoying the U23s more than the first team at the moment, as it is honest football.
    A handful of them could play in any first team match as it stands now.
    It really is use them or lose them.

    As for Millwall, we need to soak up the intimidation & smack em with a kipper!

  3. I’m expecting some of the older first teamers to be rested tomorrow. Maybe also Jack as insurance against injury.

    Millwall only know one way, so they’ll be full of energy and attack us for as long as their energy remains inexausted. This should be a perfect game for SB’s tactics of a back 4 with a holding midfield player as protection in front of them. So I expect Whelan to be selected.

    Personally I would love to see Green and CBT on the bench and bring them on together for the last 20 minutes. One on each wing. Well I can dream can’t I?

  4. Thanks JC – you mention what I have often seen as a guide to results – keeping momentum. Having said that, today’s game leaves us with a quandary; play the same side, and risk injuries for the play-offs, or rest the key players and lose the momentum.
    I would think that the play-off occasion would lift the desire of whatever team is playing, so there might be merit in resting a couple of key players, especially Grealish as the Milwall mob would be out to get him.
    Looks like Boro (don’t know why that is the diminutive as the name is Middlesbrough with only one O), It will be a hard game against anyone at this stage. We don’t want to go back to playing the Baggies and Stoke!
    I watched a very good game this morning – the Ladies FA Cup FInal – there are some skilful players at the top of their Premier League.
    UTV and condolences to the Bruce family

  5. Thanks JC, today i’d lie to see the team thats likely to play in the next match, get them controlling games as much as possible, Millwall will be a test with 2 good strikers, would prefer jedinak over JT but think its unlikely. I wouldn’t play the kids today, 2 120 min games in one weeks enough.

  6. Well, that was decidedly anticlimactic. Haven’t looked at the lineups for the other matches, but from results looks as though Bruce wasn’t alone in resting players.

  7. Trinity,

    Pleasure, as always. Not exactly a momentum builder, but in the end, maybe it doesn’t matter. Derby and Boro, though, seem to have taken the day somewhat seriously.

  8. Strange last day altogether.
    Quite a few of our second choices don’t seem to fit, with the same pattern over a lot of the season.
    Probably a mixture of ill fitting players & management decisions.
    Well we’ve got Derby & Fulham have got Boro

  9. Cheers, Clive.

    They did get their rest…interesting set of decisions. We’ll never know whether it’s the better decision. But let’s win out and say it was.

  10. IanG,

    Yeah, definitely mismatched parts in a lot of ways. The purchases definitely seemed a bit scattershot as we’ve said. But I guess good for Kodjia to get a full game in, and another for Onomah.

  11. The first penalty was soft. The second one was a joke. Millwall will have no problem winning at home with refereeing decisions like those. How can they fail?

    It was almost Derby in the play offs then. Six minutes of added on time handed us back Boro. So we have to get a result next weekend on Teesside. Best forget today’s non event and start prepping for Pulis’ team.

  12. Yes, an anticlimax before the reality strikes. I hope Villa manage to get promoted but realistically another season down would have enabled a decent team build.
    At the time we were looking for a new manager my suggestion of a man who had been promoted 7 times was ridiculed – well he has just clocked up number 8. Let’s hope SB can improve on his promotion stats.

  13. Clive – Warnock said he applied for the Villa post. I guess the Villa Board also ridiculed his application and decided on “better” options.

  14. Clive, I wouldn’t have been one of those who ‘ridiculed’ the idea of Warnock but I would certainly have been against it . . . . . probably just because I really can’t stand the guy and wouldn’t have wanted him representing Villa.
    Its not a great reason though is it!?

  15. I agree with Clive, Tipped Warnock and Cardiff at the start of the season, he really can sort a team out in a hurry, arrived there about the same time as Bruce at Villa and they haven’t looked back. Is Warnock everyone’s cup of tea? no but he gets results quickly, and as thats what the board wanted why not? Has a great knack of getting the best from mediocre players and has beens and has a good eye for a player that suits his style and players like him surprisingly. Considering some of the tripe we have watched this season I don’t think he would of been worse.

    One thing he would not of suffered from our players is the sometimes lackadaisical approach and the Holiday camp atmosphere we seem to have at Villa at times, they would either take things seriously or not be there, just what we needed imo.

    Still, onwards to the final.

  16. Mark
    His modum operandi suits small clubs where he can be the boss without interference.
    Don’t think he could have coped at villa unless he was protected, which would be pointless.
    Yes he’s done a good job at Cardiff, but lets not go mad.

  17. Mark
    Also, I think a lot of our problems have come from not buying players that suit who we already have to strengthen what’s already here, & to suit a style of play.
    Warnock ‘s game is much too simple for where we were, & when he’s spent money it’s not always worked in the past, but the stars aligned for him, so fair play.
    I expect them to go in the reverse direction at the end of next season.

  18. IanG- following the small club logic Steve Bruce has managed? 🙂 I think his strengths are that he doesn’t have to spend a lot and he’s not afraid to use youngsters, both things we could of done with. Personally I’d have preferred a true rebuild and neither manager is that good at long term planning but short term results can’t argue with. I agree about the style, we changed style after struggling for seasons and dropped then changed again when Bruce arrived from RDM’s initial plan. None of which really suits the way the U23’s are taught.

  19. its staggering how Warnock has done it. no money, cr*p footy and horrible players. No one likes him or his footy so wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole. fair play to them though.

    On to boro…the one team I didn’t bloody want. its going to be tight. I actually don’t see us doing it I’m afraid.

    Boro v derby final.

  20. Mark
    Yes small club experience.
    Well he’s learning on the job with us, never a comfortable experience all round.

  21. U23s Playoff Final

    This Saturday at 12 midday.
    £4 a ticket, £1 for Concessions & free for season ticket holders.

    Unfortunately am tied up so will not be able to see it live [sorry about revealing bad habits].
    But will be able to see the later kick off for the first team.

  22. IanG- who is mate? very good at turning it around quickly whether he’s an a-hole or not, has saved many clubs from the drop and 8 promotions, I think I can excuse him from not walking on water, after all SB’s rep is all about the promotions, Like Andrew I know QPR fans who speak highly of him, what can you say he’s a bit Marmite and gobby, not my favourite person but effective.

    Will be fun watching him implode in the prem next season at some point, presuming he’s still there.

  23. Mark
    Yes he is good at quickly changing things, & this is the first time he did it for long enough to get promoted to the Premiership from the beginning of the season.There are also many QPR fans who can’t stand him, as he got well sussed.
    He tends to come unstuck when he deals with non journeymen players, as they have egos as well.
    Cardiff were already starting to unravel, & his tactics will be quickly sussed in the premiership, & I expect a decline back to where his level is.

  24. Thanks MK for the very useful piece on CCFC.

    Interesting comments from everyone here regarding Bruce and Warnock, but for me, I would have preferred Warnock, a little bit blunt, but a guy capable of putting his arm round players, and you see what he has achieved with Etheridge, Bennett , Hoylett, and many others.

    I do not dislike Bruce, and at the end of the day he has got us into the play-offs, whether he succeeds in winning them, is another matter. If we manage to get past Pullis’s Boro’, we will then have to face Rowett’s Derby or Fulham, which all may be an ask too much, but I am going to keep the faith and give him and our team 110% backing, because on our day we can be unbeatable.

    I really feel we need to do it this time, and that Dr Tony will ensure that we have the right management team going forward, and provide whatever backing is necessary to produce a team capable of holding its own in the Premiership.

    Looking forward to two great games on Saturday, and have got my golden ticket for next Tuesday.

  25. PP
    Oh & except for preferring Warnock, & as for anyone who ends up at the wrong end where they started from, he was their ticket out.
    That’s not to say that I think much of Bruce either, but as you say we are supporting the team & U23s in the playoffs, which comes first.

  26. Seems I stirred up a bit of discussion re Warnock. Fair play to those who said he comes unstuck after promotion. He said as much in an interview on Sky after getting promotion – he said he had a poor record in the Premiership and if it didn’t work out he would walk away.
    That’s fair enough we only wanted a stop-gap manager to get us back there – then it was up to the Board to find the man to keep us there. It’s a 2 part game plan.
    Personally I am sceptical about our chances but if we do get back up I would want to see Bruce sidelined. I’m sympathetic regarding his family problems but this is the cut and thrust of professional football at the highest level where money talks.
    I was not surprised to see the Stoke board comment that they made a mistake sacking Hughes as the tactical approach had been a disaster and the ethos of the club had been lost by Lambert.
    A risky business and it need a strong, well funded Board to bite the bullet and to move if the direction is wrong but not to panic – otherwise Arsene would not have run up 22 years!!

  27. Andrew – I’m not surprised by the PL relegation candidates this season. Poor spending on journeymen have caught up with them. By the same token, those promoted last season look like they will all survive assuming Huddersfield make it. Survival achieved by hard work.

    The problems start when schitt players are paid a fortune and it goes to their heads. It has done for Stoke, the yam yams and probably Swansea.

    Take Stoke. They wasted 12m on Berahino. He’s not their only locust. Jese Rodriguez on loan from Real Madrid is on unpaid leave because his head needs feeling. Imbula cost them 18.3m and he’s out on loan. Afelley & Krkic likewise. What a circus.

    Not much better at the yam yams. Barry, Livermore and Evans on the razz in Barcelona at 5am and nicking a taxi to get back to the hotel before Pardew got up for brekkie. Loads of money, why bust a gut? Billy Smarts.

    And Swansea made the mistake of buying not 1 but 2 Ayews. The older one is collecting relegations whilst stacking his wedge. He doesn’t give a schitt. Fred Carno’s. Quite how Warnock is going to avoid the predictable should be amusing.

  28. clive
    on warnock every team he took to promotion was the best that side could ever of dreamed of ,bruce won promotion with a blues side that had been in play offs for a few years ,and hull had spent a season in pl previously
    dont like warnock style of play but at least everyone knows what way cardif will line out and play

  29. andrew
    you said yesterday you would be happy to give bruce another year ? ,why ,best part of 2 seasons here now and if we are fortunate to go up we have 2 players capable of starting in premier league , we have no sense of how we play ,line ups are changed as often as the weather ,young players havent got a chance ,why give him any longer, warnock will be looking for a new club maybe even before season starts he knows his limitations as a manager

  30. well done huddersfield ,what a scrap tonight players working so hard especially our old boy hogg who ended up captain, previous 3 play off winners all relegated

  31. I don’t see it that we aren’t good enough for the prem. Would only need a few signing imo to stay up.

    The prem is crepe apart from the top 6. Just an extended version of the championship.

  32. Andrew- I admire your backing of the team but we could be oldest ever prem team, WBA average 28.7 Brighton 28.8, stoke we are something like 29.9 Derby even older. I don’t think we have a basis of a team once we lose the oldies and we will have to.

  33. Mark – At an average age of 29.9 I’d say we are creaking a bit. Capable of a good performance for sure but not consistently, week in week out.

    But, like PP I will be at VP next week to cheer on the boys and give Boro some hostility.

  34. andrew
    if we hadrun away with this league yes i would agree we wouldnt need many ,but with only slightly better than 1 win in 2 would disagree,

  35. MK, have you forgotten phase 2 of the Doctor’s plan, where upon promotion he buys a brand new team to achieve mid-table mediocrity .

    If ever there was a manager destined to be found out in the prem it’s Steve Bruce, based on his tactics or lack their of but i’m quietly confident we have enough experience on the pitch to manage the first 180 minutes to see us past Boro, won’t predict any further than that for fear it will come back and bite me such is the inability to ever be fully convinced by Villa.

    All the best for the Saturday and Tuesday my fellow Lifers UTV

  36. Darren O’Rourke
    Ta mate!
    Can’t really disagree, especially about the unpredictability.

    You’re getting a bit ageist for someone your age aren’t you?
    Although I get the point, so lets hope there’s some last hurrahs for the decrepit.

  37. DOR- The docs phase two with SB scares the cr*p out of me, the alternative? phase two with new boss during a world cup summer just as crepe, Phase 2 may have to occur in this division yet as it should have imo last season, squeaky bum time.

    IanG – Having to constantly fix my 55 year old self from my attempts to keep fit tells me there’s something to being young 🙂

  38. Ok all fellow Lifers – let’s just recap on where we are at the moment ……………..
    We are in the play-offs which may mean we still gain the promotion that was the aim at the beginning of the season.

    The youth team and the U-23’s both did the business this year as teams, playing together to improve their skills and staying clear of too much Championship kicking by teams like Cardiff. They will be ready and confident to play in a better ‘footballing’ division next year hopefully.

    They will play in the Premier along with the residue of this years team plus new signings.

    Who will be the manager is irrelevant to what has been achieved and what is currently happening at AVFC.

    There are still many ups and downs to come over the next 2 and hopefully 3 games. It wouldn’t be the Villa if it wasn’t that way.
    I, for one, am concentrating all my powers of magic or even magick (copyright Aleister Crowley) in the hope that we will emerge victorious from the frays that face us.

    Onwards and upwards, all Villa together, never in the field of human conflict ……. etc etc

  39. OV
    We certainly need a bit of magic as it’s been missing for large proportions of the time, but hey ho all is possible.
    Well as far as Ego Magick is concerned, there’s a tendency to come to a sticky end [bit of a pun there].
    Anyway apparently AC’s dying words were “I don’t understand…”, so maybe not.
    Looking forward to Saturday with alternate optimism & apprehension.
    Sadly can’t follow the U23s live as busy, but UTV.
    Watched some of the England v Suisse U17 match, & to be honest I’m getting more out of the youth these days, & there are some great young players out there, & no excuse for AV ignoring them so much, as they have a lot to contribute.

  40. IanG- I agree there are some very good young players, actually looking forward to the world cup for a change.

    OV I agree mostly other than speculation about a new manager might light a fire under SB’s arris and get us through this period as the pre Xmas SB rant did, or we could approach it in the same lackadaisical manner we have the season, laughing our way gleefully into another season in the champs with a happy group of lads all pulling together, just not pulling quite enough.

    Might be Bruce needs some stick to perform? stranger things have happened and the team usually reflects the managers attitude. Strange too but You know I can’t believe its been two seasons already.

  41. Some seem to think we have been mismanaged – I prefer to think the good Doctor has been misguided and has relied on the advice of other ‘gurus’

    Having said all that, and putting all the previous comments on the back burner, we need to support the team in their efforts to regain Premiership status.
    The time for celebration or recrimination is not yet with us; let’s hope it is the former but with the knowledge that we start off at Premiership 1.01

  42. Trinity – tried to call you on Messenger just b4 kick-off in the Blues v ‘canes match; guess you have no internet in the outback!! – now half-time and you are still in it. Best wishes from the Land of Smiles!!

  43. clive- I think we are better than we appear to be and I include the U23’s in that but we lack consistency and an identifiable plan.

    Looking forward to tomorrow will hopefully catch both Games.

  44. Good to see more AV Lifers commenting on the forth coming matches and the possibilities of promotion to the Premiership.

    I am hopeful of a positive result, and Steve Bruce astounding us with another promotion for his cv.
    However, I do feel that he may wish to go out on a high and retire from management with his personal circumstances.

    I am also convinced that the good doctor is panning for the future, and will have a next step for the Premiership. Our under 23’s will become a major part of next season, along with the younger members of the present squad, plus maybe one or two new signings.

  45. PP
    We’re all hopeful & have been for years.
    Many of us would agree that it would be good for SB to go out on a high after promotion, but I think his parents demise will spur him on, but I hope to a new challenge after a record 5 promotions.

  46. Terry interview is great. What a guy and captain. Hope we see him lifting the trophy

    You know the play offs are terrifying. The Prem hope could all be over in one game if it doesn’t go well

  47. Good stuff, all. In the spirit of OV and others I decided not to do anything about Bruce and the season just yet.

    Will have a preview up for tomorrow. I feel alternately calm and terrified.

  48. Fulham looked highly mediocre last night. On form, Villa should fear none of the teams in this playoff…but goodness know which Villa will show up.

    Fingers crossed for tonight

  49. Mark – do you fancy Fulham because you think they will win or do you fancy them as a final opponent? I reckon whoever it is, assuming we get there. either will present problems. I somehow think Fulham will win especially as after Rowett said he wasn’t going to shut up shop but go for a second goal; could get caught on the break at least once!

  50. Clive- I think they will win at craven cottage. As for the final if we get there would rather have derby at Wembley than a passing team with a quick player like sessignon. That said One looks on the up the other not. Derby had 3 shots Fulham 16 and 75% possession but lost. On paper as PW said we have every chance if we turn up.

  51. No fairytale ending stayed 2-0 to much aimless crossing with no central target best chances came from counters or middle. Shame but there it is.

  52. MK,

    Apart from some nice touches from RHM, I felt it was a one of the poorer under 23 games that I have watched. Green being too greedy, and not moving the ball on quickly enough. Sad to see Lyden going off injured once more. Thought the refereeing was dire, and RHM’s goal was a good one, or more borderline than the linesman thought.
    Was impressed with Brighton’s Swedish no11.

    Just hope that the first team are on the ball tonight, as Traore and Downing will be on fire and be aiming to supply Bamford with a constant stream of passes and crosses.

  53. PP- Wasn’t the best especially at the back and Lyden was a miss as he was involved a lot to start with getting forward centrally, it was all a bit flat and there was not enough of a response when Brighton scored from our keepers initial save. Probably a lot to do with the recent weeks dramas , shoot outs and 120 minute games too.

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