Thanks to Conor Hourihane, Villa came away with a point at the weekend, but one that left most supporters underwhelmed once again. And I can’t say that’s what we shouldn’t be feeling, because while Steve Bruce was saying it was deserved, I didn’t really come away feeling like it was. It wasn’t an unfair result, but had we lost, I wouldn’t have argued that we’d earned a point and were hard done by. I was alternately bored, incredulous, and disinterested throughout the entire match.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt in a size too small. I’m fed up with what I’m seeing. That doesn’t mean I’m being irrational. Work with me for a minute.

The Numbers Game
There are folks urging patience. Always are. And, given the new faces who’ve yet to really be integrated, there’s still some argument for patience. So let’s do some numbers.

Bruce has won 43.6% of his 78 league games in charge at Villa under some challenging circumstances. If we do the math, that averages out to 20 wins a season.

Let’s look at last season to get a better sense. Bruce achieved a 52% win rate en route to 24 victories. If he were to achieve that over the remaining 39 games this year, Villa would end up with roughly 22 wins (22.3), or two fewer than last season. (That would give us 66 points from wins, leaving 26 points to come from the 24 games we don’t win.) This means that if Villa are to improve on last season’s 24 wins, they need to win roughly 58% of the remaining 39 fixtures. That would get us to 25 (24.6) wins.

Now there’s always some odd combination of draws and losses. But the bottom line is that Villa need to win 58%-60% of the remaining matches to be in with a shout of an automatic spot. If we end up winning 58% from here on out to roughly equal our win total from last year, we’d need to change the 11 draws and 11 losses of last season into something on the order of 17 draws and 5 losses to be in with shout of an auto spot. In other words, to avoid the playoffs, you’d basically say that Villa can only afford to lose 5 or 6 matches the rest of the way.

Does anyone see that happening the way we’re going? So far this year, we’ve won 28.6% of our seven matches. The good news is that our loss percentage is 14.3%. Over 39 games, that equals 5.5 defeats. So, we’re losing at about the right rate. But we’re at less than half the winning percentage we need.

Seven matches does not a season make, and there’s no guarantee that 90 points are needed for second. But the numbers make it clear that we’ve stumbled again and put ourselves in a hole having played just 15% of the season’s 46 matches.

Bruce targets two points per game, or 92/season, for good reason. Since 2004-05, the average points total for the champion has been 93, ranging from a low of 81 in 2007-08 (West Brom) to a high of 102 (Newcastle 2009-10 and Leicester 2013-14). In the four seasons since Leicester won, the points total for the league champion has been 90, 93, 94, and 99. Second has seen 89, 89, 93, and 90.

And yes, we can always get promoted through the playoffs…But that’s not what such an expensive side should be risking or aspiring to, which is an indictment of management. I’d take it, but that route is for teams coming into their own down the stretch, and if we’re not in the auto hunt, then god only knows what kind of form we’ll be in.

Sometimes You Double Down or Go Home a Loser
At any rate, a 92-point target is just about right. And shows that Bruce is very much a percentages guy. This is how he sets up, these are his tactics: don’t lose. Win a little over half your games, draw a good share of the rest, and just don’t lose more than six or seven. It makes sense. But playing not to lose when you have a team that’s full of attacking talent while being bereft defensively? That’s a bit daft. He hasn’t tried to build a prototypical defensive side. He’s tried to make an attacking side a defense-first side. Not a good idea. And there’s little margin for error.

In other words, Bruce has to play to win. And they only way this Villa side can win is to attack.

This is the only conclusion that can be drawn. For Bruce, it’s also the only thing that makes sense for his future. If he really wants to manage a big club and take us up, he has to change. It’s promotion or bust. He’s gone, otherwise. He won’t hold onto a 14% losing rate with this team: How many times will someone come off the bench to score an equalizer in injury time off a free kick?

For the rest of us, Villa will survive. And, most likely, Villa eventually will thrive—if NSWE don’t get bored. We’ll get a new manager, sell everyone to comply with FFP, and start from scratch. But we might drop down to League One as a result, and be looking at an even longer slog.

So, whether Bruce stays or goes in the next month is actually a big and important question for the club. It’s not about ‘positive/negative’ supporters. It’s about what Bruce’s presence signals.

What Exactly Does Bruce Signal?
If Bruce is still around in a month, then it means we’re not just mathematically in the hunt, but also showing NSWE the form and purpose that lends itself to believing it will continue—not just this year, but in the PL, too. If we aren’t showing that and the math starts working even harder against us, then it only makes sense to get rid of Bruce and try to get a jump on the rebuild because we’ll be losing virtually the entire starting XI regardless. The only reason Bruce stays in this scenario is that there’s no manager deemed suitable for a rebuild who’s also available. But I doubt Wes Edens will let the side just putter along and wait til the summer. There’s too much money involved to get relegated.

Bottom Line
Bruce still has a chance. I’ll give him credit for finally deciding to abandon the Jedinak experiment. I’ll give him credit for getting a striker with some height and pace who might be able to get in on the end of a cross and actually hold the ball up. I’ll give him credit for bringing in McGinn, El Ghazi, and Bolasie, too. From what I saw in El Ghazi’s debut, there’s absolutely no reason he shouldn’t be on the pitch every time he’s fit.

If they save Bruce’s bacon, fantastic. Everyone wins. For the time being, at least. But they can only save his bacon if we attack. Which is why Bruce has to stop hedging his bets. No more Elmohamady. No more Whelan. No more Taylor. Jedi, Whelan, Elmo, and Taylor are surplus to requirements beyond an injury crisis at this point. Why? How many were in for them in the close season? The players have to believe selections equal the best chance of winning.

If Bruce wants to persist with a 4-1-4-1, here’s what he does (where I’ve listed two, it’s about injuries, rotation, and perhaps form):

Bree, Tuanzebe, Chester, Hutton
Bjarnason (Jedinak)
Adomah/Bolasie, Gealish, McGinn/Hourihane, El Ghazi

Not rocket surgery. Villa have no better XI. Give that team a run of games. If they’re not good enough to get promoted, then I give up. And Bruce should, too.

Rotherham? I could care less. If we’re playing that XI (bar Bjarnason if he’s still injured), there should be no way we lose. Or, I should say, no way we lose if anyone coaching them has any idea what they’re doing…or if the players still believe in Bruce.

Over to you.

Comments 66

  1. I posted this at the end of the previous thread…

    I watched a video by the Mail’s Mark Kendrick – 40 minutes of it – re-iterating just about what people on here are stating about Bruce, but – like the people on here – he’s forgotten that Bruce is not entirely culpable for what ‘s developed. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

    I do have *some* sympathy with the anti-brigade one here, but before I join in unison I think the current squad has to settle and grow into something after all the change-arounds (which have happened for various reasons).

    I’ll come back and say “you’re right” if nothing’s working proper by end-November. Otherwise my view just now is that I think it’s mostly the players fault that we’re not top of the division right now.

  2. JC: “In other words, Bruce has to play to win. And they only way this Villa side can win is to attack.”

    I’d say that’s exactly what Villa were doing in most of the first 5 matches this season but the players failed in front of goal. Since then we’ve gone back into self-searching mode. But a good win tonight and all can be love and light again!

  3. That’s a good resume JC of the current position. I don’t think NSWE will get bored with their new venture. The only thing they’ve stated of note so far is that they wish to improve, not weaken the team and that the club must be sustainable. Well, actions spoke louder than words and they kept hold of Jack and signed young and hungry. Commendable.

    I think they would agree that they took over a basket case that needed much more life blood and they’ve been busy on that front. Whilst getting to grips with the situation, they decided to keep SB in post to hold the ship steady. It will soon be reaching a point where their plan can be measured against actuals and if Villa are coming up short then remedial action will be taken as sure as night follows day. So Spud needs to forget talk about mass hysteria or a crisis and put out attacking teams to get win after win as mentioned above otherwise he will be gone.

  4. Very surprised JL that you did not give the link to Matt ‘s video on the Bruce Debate, which is superb, and the best summary by any sports writer:

    Or am I surprised….maybe not, as Matt is so in tune with everything, and gives an excellent balanced view. I also think he is right to say that Bruce has four more games to match De Matteo, except De Matteo did not have a season and a half to prepare himself. So yes JL, Bruce has four games left to turn it round, with three of them at home!!

    Excellent leader JC, couple that with Matt’s “The Bruce Debate” and we have everything covered…!!

  5. Paul,

    Well I don’t agree that “it is superb”. I think he’s just talking to the gallery to be honest.

    You’ll think it’s “superb” if you go with his line of thinking – which you do.

    I messaged him to state my view.

  6. Thanks JC, I said the other day you have dangled a foot toward the floor from your enforced fence seat, think its well and truly landed. Like the team but I came to the conclusion that Jack may not be in our best team, he’s played out Right to accommodate McGinn, maybe 433 with Thor at the base and McGinn and Hourihane in the mid and El Ghazi
    Abraham Bolasie up top? we would be hot on the counter.

    Bruce has had big Dips and Troughs throughout his managerial career even when he has been promoted. They are the main reason he doesn’t come top. If I was to hazard a guess as to why? I think he doesn’t plan ahead. He buys players tries to find a system, loses a few changes the pieces until something sticks, all time lost that a manager able to work things through in his head arrives at quicker. I also don’t think he has a clue about attacking play in the final third, especially when you are or should be the Dominant team, he’s never had a club that should be before.

    Blame landed very quickly at RDM’s doorstep in massively more trying times (with much greater hysteria) and he paid the price, while I don’t think he was anything special I think he’d do better with this team than Bruce.

    JL – If Bruce does not do well by the end of November we will be in the cr*p, Oct-dec fixtures are a horror show compared to the 1st 3 months.

  7. Just to Highlight Villa are not at some sort of disadvantage because we changed some players heres the top six teams at this moment’s movement of players. This does not count there own loanees coming back in nor loans out by the club of which there are more than transfers etc. all have had a tougher fixture list than us imo so far.

    Leeds- 6 new players in, 5 out
    Brentford- 4 new in , 5 out
    Bristol city- 9 in 8 out
    Middlesbrough- 9 in, 15 out
    Sheff utd, 9 in, 4 out
    Swansea- 6 in 9 out

  8. Plug…well summarized. I’ve always thought they’ll give it til January since that’s when they’d have to make decisions about offloading players like Grealish to get the most money. But we’ll obviously have to pick up the pace to give them anything to think about.

  9. Just read elsewhere that Bruces 12th game the one he wants to be judged on is PNE the same game that RDM got the boot, we are at home though but on telly, dun dun dernnnn!!!!

    Have to say so far PNE are second from bottom but that hasn’t stopped us recently we have drawn twice with the other bottom 3 teams.

  10. MK,

    I know what you’re saying about Grealish, but I still think he has to play. Maybe it’s a bit like trying to fit Lampard and Gerrard into the same side (and one assumes that McGinn likely was brought in because it looked like Jack was off). But Jack simply has more quality on the ball than anyone else.

    It’s something Bruce has to figure out. Both offer something different. Watching Bolasie plead for a through ball to his feet, the one thing I’d be doing incessantly in training is getting Jack and/or McGinn to play that ball.

    The side I put out obviously presumes a 4-1-4-1. Not saying that’s our best formation, just accepting it’s Bruce’s favorite. I’d think that El Ghazi and Bolasie would easily make it every bit a 4-3-3, for the most part. What I like about El Ghazi was him cutting inside and attacking the box instead of looking for crosses.

  11. JC- Bruce has bought two wingers in that both like to cut in IMO, does this suggest Bruce is stopping the Crossing so much? I know he tried wing backs pre-season and wanted the Bristol lad that we missed, might be the players we have missed have buggered up his dare call it plan? if so why bin Delaet? and even more so send Clark out? easily as good as Taylor and IMO better at attacking.

    Defo think McGinn was jacks replacement, Bruce was after him last season in Jan I recall. I think the team misses Hourihane runs into the box its a shame we cannot accommodate all three.

  12. MK,

    I certainly hope it means fewer crosses. And it could be that missing out on certain players did have an effect, but like you say, seems like we had players that could’ve played the 3-5-2, and I doubt the defense would really have been any shakier.

    The trick, as you well know, is that you’ve got to persist with things. Not every day will be a great day, but it’s about saying this is how we’re going to do things and we’re going to drill it and play it until it sticks.

    With Grealish and McGinn, I think it’s simply having them overlap each other, but having cover behind so they can both be involved higher up when the oppty presents itself to camp out a bit. So you need a fast, aggressive DM that can press up and get back, and one of the two needs to be keeping an eye on that counter outlet as well.

    Then, like you say, we’re missing those trailing runs (Hourihane), and basically are aiming at one striker and maybe a winger on the back post. Whether it’s Grealish or McGinn further forward, the other has to trail and look to strike off cutbacks as we’ve pushed the defense deeper.

  13. JC- trouble is both want to play on the left, Jack dribbled across the box on Saturday from the right to left and just could not set himself to strike. We have loads of left sided players.

  14. Mark
    As long as nobody sits on them, it should be ok
    Hard to follow this fragmentation from outside the loop, not much excitement being generated within the media, or many commentaries.
    But if we don’t get a result it’ll be yet more sidetracking & distraction.

  15. Confirmed team: Nyland, Elmohamady, Jedinak. Chester, Hutton, El Ghazi, Hourihane, McGinn, Grealish, Kodjia, Abraham.

    Subs: Bunn, Bree, Tuanzebe, Whelan, Bjarnason, Adomah, Bolasie

    same old, same old…

  16. Well, I knew Elmo would go to RB. Did not think Tuanzebe would find himself on the bench so soon.

    Guessing that’s because Bruce wants Hourihane out there, feels like Tuanzebe is riskier to play at CB without Jedinak at DM…?

    So, maybe 4-3-3…I don’t really know. Maybe Kodjia’s playing more to the right.

  17. I like hourihane and mcginn as a pairing looks like grealish will be our left winger leaving al ghazi and bolasie to battle for the right. Coached properly we should walk this league with what’s on the pitch

  18. Yes, much better set-up, much more attacking. Doubt we’ll see it week-in week-out, but a good way to get Jack and McGinn out of each other’s way and offer more than one threat.

  19. Thought Villa started well for the first time, coming straight out of the blocks, and could have been one up in the opening minutes. Continued like this for about 7-8 minutes, and then things settled down.
    Eventually a great goal from Villa, ending with Tammy Abrahams netting on is home debut. Game settled down with Hourihane and McGinn playing well together with JG.

    Rotherham came back and pressed and also started the second half well, and Villa struggled a little, until Bolasie came on and got the second. A reasonably good display from the forwards and midfield, which if Bruce does not meddle too much, could settle into a great unit. Defence is still a bit worrying, but was pleased to see Bree come on and make a difference. Hope Bruce sticks with him now.

    All in all, a good result for the team, the fans and especially Steve Bruce…..Three more points needed on Saturday..!!!

  20. The ability to type Kodija and assist in the same sentence is the most shocking thing about last nights game, Rotherham weren’t at the races so pretty much a foregone conclusion apart from the length of time it took to get the second goal knowing Villa concede was a worry.

    The obvious thing to say is that it one win against Rotherham doesn’t make a season and yet still Bruce goes out on the attack in his post match comments, feeling the pressure a bit I assume or reading too much social media than is healthy for someone in the public eye.

    Would have preferred Tuanzebe to continue in defence and I hope for a bit of continuity in team selection over the coming games to reap the most reward but Bruce often tinkers too much as we seen last season. If he determines this is his first eleven they can only get better by playing consistently together but we’ve a bloated squad in some positions and he’ll probably mess around with team selection at the weekend again.

    For now basking in 6th spot, however to get back to his 2 points per game average as quickly as possible, we need to win the next three games and that includes Bristol City but winnable home games against Sheff Wed and Preston.

  21. After getting into VP last night and seeing the team sheet I thought Spud had raised the white flag and just wanted his pay off. Only he knows why he dropped Tuanzebe for Jedi.

    McGinn was the man for me. Thought Jack was wasted out wide. Also thought the team never used the wide open spaces of VP. It was so often wide open down the right or left wings.

  22. Again poor substitutions last night. I could see a Rotherham goal coming and thought we needed some fresh legs in the middle. But Spud thought otherwise. I think he only brought Bolasie on because the crowd became restless and were calling for him.

    He will be delighted with the clean sheet but if the opposition had a Maupay up top it would have ended 2-2. And Spud’s after match comments……I’ve always wanted 2 up front!!…. F@&c*#!!!

  23. PP: ” A reasonably good display from the forwards and midfield, which if Bruce does not meddle too much, could settle into a great unit. Defence is still a bit worrying, but was pleased to see Bree come on and make a difference. Hope Bruce sticks with him now.”

    The Last sentence I agree with, but it’s clear that Brucie wanted an attacking formation as possible and so something had to give – either Tuaner or the Jedi.

    But the attacking formation prevailed and it just shows that Brucie doesn’t need AV Lifers to tell him how to select a team! 😀

    As for the goals – both very well exceuted, and I think Bolasie’s impressed me more as he was really determined to make that goal his. A good old Andy Gray or Gerry Hitchens type attempt, which is a joy to see.

    No DO’R, one win doesn’t make promotion by itself, but it was clearly going to take a few games for the new players to settle, though Kodjia and Abraham clearly have a fine understanding already.

    It can only get better, though it may be a couple of games before it gels properly.

  24. Bloody optimistic on here today!
    Glad we won, even if JL still has enough hair for Gel.
    Notice Bruce saying that ‘the more intelligent will see through this nonsense’, although in response to that insult to the fans, to have the words Bruce & intelligence in the same sentence is an oxymoron.
    Thanks for the comments, am really missing being able to watch or listen to the match.

  25. It wont last, but it will not hurt for a few days, while we laugh at Bruce attacking us and Matt Kendrick from the Mail telling the truth about the situation.

    We can now wait with baited breath to see what team he comes up with for the Sheffield Wednesday game. Will it be all change again, or will he stick?

    Tough games last night between Swansea and Stoke, and West Bromwich building on their recent successes, and scoring goals.

  26. PP – saw the West Brom goals, they have good players and are dangerous on the counter attack. That Harvey Barnes had pace to burn, he looked hard to stop. Their defence looked shaky though, it will be interesting when we play them.

  27. IanG
    Wearing it is. Get Villans to not expect too much. Win enough to be plausible, just enough to get enough fans spending money. But it’s really about the betting syndicates. Villa will return to the PL when the syndicates are ready, not before.

  28. MK: “Gelling yes they ought to as 8 of the eleven have played together most of last season”

    Another piece of obfuscation I’m afraid MK as only these played pretty well all through last season:

    Elmo, Chester, Jedi, Hutton, Hourihane (mostly defensive players).

    Albert didn’t start last night and looks as though he’s now regarded as a squadie. Jack and Codger were out for a long time last season and Codger never did get back into it and mostly came on as a sub.

    The midfield and forwards area is now substantially changed.

  29. Obfuscation is it? hows this, whether they played the entirety of last season or not they’ve known each other for two years, Grealish is no stranger to the side and wasn’t it Kodjia that saved us in Bruces 1st season? and had a pre-season with us and played every game so far?

    Mcginn even looks like he’s been at Villa for years and had played 6 games before last night. Tammy Abraham looks settled already he just not getting the service he likes until Kodjia’s pass. ElGhazi is the only player that looks out of sorts but then he played on the right, he was previously much better on the left.

    The players you mentioned may be mostly defenders but after nearly two seasons together can’t defend? that gelling sure takes time. The players are good, the systems none existent,(even Bruce says he has to find one) so JL if gelling is such a problem why did we get worse last season toward the end? The gelling of a team can be quite rapid in the right hands.

    Even if this team becomes a winner in this league it will not look like Wolves or Fulham which should be the benchmark, Bruce may get his third tilt at going up but thats all we will get.

    I enjoyed Bolasies Brave header by the way

  30. MK: “Obfuscation is it? hows this, whether they played the entirety of last season or not they’ve known each other for two years, Grealish is no stranger to the side and wasn’t it Kodjia that saved us in Bruces 1st season? and had a pre-season with us and played every game so far?”

    Yes MK, you are always near right … but …

    1. I said that of the 5 players who played most of last season, they were mostly defenders. In my previous reference to ‘gelling’ I was referring to the need in the creative area of the team, which has changed substantially.

    2. Jack and Conor are still there … but last night was only Conor’s second start of the season. Adomah is clearly a squadie now.

    3. Yes, Grealish is no stranger to the side and Codger was the star in Bruce’s first two-thirds season, but that’s just 2 players out of the creative area of the team, and you were comparing to last season only.

    The fact is that there are 3 or 4 new signings playing themselves in in the creative area of the team (and I think McGinn is still not quite there), and that means the others having to play themselves in with them too – **to gel**.

    So why you have to knock a statement about the gelling element I don’t know – except to infer that your stance is 100% right.

    You wait … these new players are going to prove to be very hot stuff, and that link up between Codger and Abraham is very impressive … two beautiful link-ups in their first two matches together. We should see a lot more. There must be something about Bristol City! 🙂

  31. JL- sorry you think I’m 100% right I’m only 100% in how I see things whether they are right or not, am I to assume you think your not? 🙂

    As far as gelling these players train with each other all week, some for years now. This is a very important point, they know each others foibles which is the essence of gelling, they will also play as a team not just get thrown in on matchday generally after playing with others all week.

    This is how I see it, the old naval gun run came to mind, you drill what you are going to do and where everyone is going to be, on the way you get to know each others strengths and weaknesses and you iron them out (coaching) Football has a artistic licence aspect and players have there foibles/skills but football intelligence comes into it.

    So why did Kodjia and Tammy play so well together? they have barely met let alone gelled, to me it because they suit each other, the managers job is to employ enough players that suit his needs and suit each other.

    What I see at Villa is a high quality of player playing at a sub par level for there ability, it was the same last season too, weirdly this season with less time Bruce has a team with more potential (might of had a hand). I liked Tammy and Kodjia’s play but the midfield play is not there although they are all top notch at this level.

  32. JL,

    I think Bruce was finally listening to exactly what I called for (above), and what Lifers (and many others) have been calling for for some time: an attack-oriented team.

    Now, I’m sure he’ll say he could only have done it now Abraham’s here. Or El Ghazi, etc. But, and maybe it was down to it being Rotherham, no DM, as such, and two up top.

    Won’t always be the right formation, but that sort of thinking is what most everyone has been asking for.

  33. JC: “I think Bruce was finally listening to exactly what I called for (above), and what Lifers (and many others) have been calling for for some time: an attack-oriented team.”

    John, Bruce went and bought these attack-minded players weeks ago and has been getting them ready since.

    In my view Bruce is way ahead of anyone on AVL – he’s already decided on that line of thinking before you put letters on the screen. 😉

    All the articles and comments I’m reading are as though Bruce has not been on that wave of thinking … but think back. The fact that in the first 5 games we should have scored a lot more and won all those games reflects the fact that Bruce wants more attacking player.

    I’m reasonably happy with Bruce. And apart from his actual language I kinda agree with the comments he’s recently made about fans and the press. Particularly Matt Kendrick, who really should know better – unless all he’s doing is stating stuff to earn his employers more dough. Which is the most likely motivation.

    Be happy! The world hasn’t ended yet! 😀

  34. MK: “As far as gelling these players train with each other all week, some for years now.”

    You cannot stop can you? Seeing the middle road is not part of your vocabulary.

    What you stated (in this quote) is refuting100% what I’ve said. What you say is only a little bit true and totally different to the point I was making.

    Anyhow, I’ll leave you all to it and will come back in a month’s time to see what you have to say after the team has **gelled**! Even if Villa were top you’d still be grumbling! 😀

  35. JL – “In my view Bruce is way ahead of anyone on AVL – he’s already decided on that line of thinking before you put letters on the screen”.

    And so he should be, he’s been operating in the professional side of football for many years. My gripe with him is nothing to do with me thinking I know better than him. Of course I don’t.

    But I turn up at home games and have watched so much turgid play served up as entertainment under his tenure. It ain’t cheap supporting Villa and watching them leaves me believing that the team is performing less than the sum of their parts.

  36. Well put Plug.

    I am happy for you to make comments JL, but why do they always seem to be very condescending, as if you have some superior mindset, that the rest of us do not appreciate.

    I have my opinions on Bruce, which accept his abilities, but also recognise his failings, and he often admits them himself, but he certainly is not coping well with criticism at the moment.
    I also think that Matt Kendrick’s knowledge of Aston Villa over the years, and during Bruce’s tenure is better than most.

  37. Ah, JL.

    Bruce has always had attacking players. Leave Adomah on the bench and play Elmo as a right-winger? Leave a faster, younger CB out from the beginning (and try to make him a RB) in favor of an older, slower DM you want to make a CB? Let the fastest, strongest natural right back (out of five) go? Play one up top, one who’s been crocked? Start Green, then don’t, then send him out on loan? Leave Bjarnason out in favor of Whelan? Hourihane would never have seen the light of day if it weren’t for injuries. Bruce’s best XI had Gabby and Lansbury to start last season. Lansbury, okay. Worth a punt. Gabby? Seriously? His sell-by was four years ago.

    Sorry. It’s a state of mind, not personnel. Overabundance of caution and playing percentages. He’s always put not losing first. I get it. But he’s been wrong. And he seemingly admitted as much. I’ll wager he was more surprised than anyone when he was forced to field players he’d dismissed and they carried us to our best performances last year. Then he went and tinkered to go back to his old ways and fell short. You can always say he was just a game, just a half away. But he just couldn’t bring himself to stick with his fastest, youngest, most talented XI.

    That said…El Ghazi looks like he could be better than either Green or Adomah. Bolasie? Likewise, though early days. Abraham? Same. Which is why I’ve been saying ever since they were announced that they could well save his bacon. IF he doesn’t shackle them by asking them to be defensive first.

    AND…if Bruce had put together a younger, more athletic back line (and he could’ve gone with three or four), he wouldn’t need (or think he did) a Jedinak or Whelan in front of them.

    I’ve been harping on these things for weeks and months. Others, for longer. Bruce is well behind the support, my friend.

    I don’t know what he does going forward. If he’s all of a sudden throwing caution to the wind, it’s because, as I said above, he knows what he’s been doing isn’t working. He admitted we needed to be younger and faster after his way didn’t work. But he didn’t see that when he was bringing in older and slower.

    And if he were angling for this all along? Well, rather amazing that loans like these weren’t available a year ago while he was accumulating right backs, ignoring the left, and depending on a pensioner with extra cover to marshal the team.

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