And then there were seven. Games that it is. And the one today is as interesting as it gets when it comes to subplots, because Steve Bruce will be standing on the touchline with Villa on the pitch, only this time he’ll be trying to get his Sheffield Wednesday side to put a dent in his former club’s promotion hopes.

You can’t blame him. It’s his job, and he’ll never forget the Cabbage of Fate. What does he bring to the table? Well, Wednesday have been on a very good run under him since he took over in December. They’ve won five and drawn six, and haven’t lost. And now they’ve got a realistic shot at making the playoffs. So, Wednesday are a well-organized side that’s tough to break down and doesn’t lose.

But does he hold the key to breaking Villa’s momentum and five-game win streak?

Tactically, I don’t know that Bruce brings all that much, a view we’ve all debated to death since he arrived. He didn’t fare particularly well against Dean Smith and Brentford, losing two and drawing two. Bruce did manage to chip down the margin of defeat in that brief span, from 0-3 to 1-2, but never got the better of them.

And now Smith has more to work with and a full squad that’s flying. But there’s a bit more to it than that, given that when Smith took over, the first things he emphasized was the players’ lack of fitness. Then there was the coaching aspect, all the details of how Villa were doing things differently. He was never explicitly critical of Bruce, but neither did he seem to have much time for him as a manager, and made no bones about why and how Villa were underachieving.

Bruce has to be smarting from that, and will be pointing to his record with the Owls as proof that he does know what he’s doing.

And then there’s the training-session video Villa put up this week, which perhaps might’ve been a bit pointed and/or cheeky, depending on how you see it. What it said to me is “Yeah, this is what’s different: look how sharp we are, look at the focus, drilling, intensity and professionalism.” A swipe at Bruce? A bit of mind games? A purely informational piece of content to give fans some insight? Probably a bit of each.

But in the end it will come down to the players as it always does. The match means a lot to both sides, and we don’t know how the players see it in regard to being a statement on their respective managers. Wednesday players have to be happier than they were before Bruce arrived because their record is better. Villa seem to be happier under Smith because they’re playing much better, the right kinds of pegs are being matched up with the right holes, they’re fitter, faster, stronger and getting much more coaching. Which means they’re realizing much more of their potential as individuals and a team.

Do they want to send a message to Bruce? No idea. Do they want to simply go out and notch another victory and take one more step toward locking down a playoff spot? I would imagine so. But I do have a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t mind showing Bruce something.

Anyway, what we know is that both teams will be up for it, and Villa will have a full 90 minutes’ running in them. They’ll be continuing with an unchanged side that’s tougher at the back and in full song elsewhere. They’ll be hoping that if they have yet another fast start they’ll make it count and put the game to bed early as they should’ve done last week. They’ll know they can tough it out for a narrow win if they don’t. They’ll also know they’ve got goals in them if they fall behind.

It figures to be a tough match with a number of subplots that may have no bearing whatsoever on the outcome. As is so often the case, it likely will just come down to who has more confidence and wants it more. And perhaps which side accounts for Grealish or Bannon better.

One streak will end today, and it’s obviously vital for Villa that it’s Wednesday’s. Game on.

Over to you.

Steer; Elmohamady; Hause; Mings; Taylor; McGinn; Whelan; Grealish; El Ghazi; Green; Abraham

Subs: Sarkic, Tuanzebe, Jedinak, Kodjia, Adomah, Lansbury, Hourihane.

Comments 112

  1. Thanks JC- Actually Bruce took over on the 1st of feb, sheff wed improved immediately after the old manager left, they went won 3 Drawn 2 lost 1 before Bruce officially became the manager and returned from the cricket in the windies. So it wasn’t anything to do with his presence he wasn’t there, Not sure when Steve Agnew took charge but the last manager left on the 22/12/18 and they won the next day.

  2. Excellent leader JC as usual, with a few thoughts to consider.

    Apart from Steer, most of the players playing today, that played under Bruce, are part of Dean’s team: Elmohamady, Whelan, McGinn, Grealish, Abraham, Taylor, so in fact it almost confirms Bruce’s selections, rather than there being players there that he would not give a chance to. Even the bench contains Bruce players in Jedinak, Lansbury, Adomah, Kodija, Tuanzebe, so Bruce may feel that he will be playing the team that he built in one way. His only failing was the experiment with Jedinak, which brought about his downfall.

  3. PP- thats a bit generous 🙂 starting the season with virtually no CB’s at the club, sending out Elphick, playing Tuenzabe at RB, Hutton LB, sending Steer and Green out too.

  4. JC- Won’t be easy they are have lost one in 17 in the league. Thought they would be challenging this season anyway the new manager not working out but a decent side none the less.

  5. Yeah, I know. Just no help.

    But basically we’ve controlled it by and large. Smith will be wanting a little bit better decision-making around the box. We’re trying to get at and through them quickly, lot of balls being cut out. They are there to be had, though.

    Not much in the way of clear-cut chances, and when Weds are getting forward, Bannon’s doing a nice job of running things for them.

    Green did an excellent job sweeping that ball back into the box from the end line, just a fantastic one-time from McGinn. But he, El Ghazi, and Whelan have all been trying to do a bit too much. Just need to settle down a little bit, perhaps be a touch more patient.

  6. Huge win. PP did say we needed to emulate what Liverpool did last night. Well, we came back from a goal down to win 1-3 as well.

    Thanks for the running commentary JC. It gives a snapshot of feelings in real time as the action unfolds. But it was never a penalty so Steer’s save was justice. Sheff Weds looked the most likely in the second half but this Villa team has goals in it.

    I imagine Spud was sick seeing the away support crash through the hoardings after Uncle Albert scored. I’m off for a few jars of ale.

  7. The resilience of the team on this run has been excellent. The sky sports app highlights looked ugly but the result was as required.
    At least we have an exciting end to the campaign

  8. We do, Paul. We did have the better of first, and at the start of the second there were a couple of moves where a better final ball would’ve seen us take the lead. After that, though…

    I will say that while I wasn’t happy being under the cosh, once again I wasn’t as nervy as I’ve been in the past. Mings, Hause, and Axel make things pretty solid, and apart from the danger on corners and a couple of crosses, most of the threat was held at bay.

    We got a little too deep, weren’t clever, again, clearing and taking the wind out of things, but we’ve gotten to be pretty hard to break down, even when it’s one-way traffic.

    And from the off, it seemed Dean was thinking the way to get at them was being much more direct, and catching them out on counters. There for a while, it just saw us giving it straight back to them, but it got us the equalizer. And apart from Green’s excellent assist on that one, I might be tempted to back to Adomah. Green’s struggling to play at both ends, and is taking too long, trying to do too much. He’ll get there, and if Smith wants to keep playing him, that’s fine, but I think Adomah provides a more consistent contribution and keeps things flowing better.

  9. JC
    Except he’s been out of form in general play & has tendencies to be anonymous & give the ball away.
    And then he scores the goal [again]
    One swallow does not the summer make, but I think he will have to share the position with Green

  10. An ugly win, but that is what we need to do if we are to stand a chance of going up. JC’s commentary very good for those who did not see it. I was lucky and able to watch the game, which wasn’t pretty. Great goal from McGinn for the equaliser, and a good cross in from Green.

    Green for me, apart from the assist was struggling, and so was El Ghazi, while Grealish was not really at the races, fortunately Whelan and McGinn were playing at their usual level, as was the defence, but Tammy was getting no real service, and once again the difference was bringing on Uncle Albert and Kodija.

    We were also helped by Bannan going off injured and Wednesday dropping down a peg.

    Two great goals to finish the game off, and I think there will be a few changes now for the Rotherham game.

  11. IanG,

    No, he hasn’t been in the best form and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them share the time through to the end.

    Tony Daley, though, was saying the same thing, that Albert tracks back better and works harder off the ball. Green basically just has to keep it simple, not try to take so many men on so often, and just make the quick pass. He’ll get there, I’m sure.

  12. PP,

    Agreed on Grealish…I’m almost wondering if he’s hurting again. Didn’t really see him looking to take men on, for example. Could’ve been instruction, but he didn’t really seem like himself. Had more than one wayward pass he’d normally complete.

    Thought Whelan had a subpar game as well. Caught in possession, lot of through balls that got picked off and came back at us. Not all bad, by any means, but McGinn was definitely the best of the bunch.

  13. A good ugly win seems to sum it up. Very good preview and running commentary by JC.
    Great to see the team pick itself up over the last month or so and give us a strong ray of hope for promotion.

  14. One of the biggest failures yesterday was the total wastage of dead ball situations, both corners and free kicks, and could have cost us, but for the late injury time goals.

    We need to be really on the ball against Rotherham on Wednesday, when three points for them will lift them out of the relegation zone, and they will be more than up for it, after yesterday’s win.

  15. Good point about Rotherham PP. they have a hell of a lot to play for and having only lost 3 games in the past 12 (all against top 6 clubs) they’ll be some self belief too.
    Any complacency on our part will see us having to play catch up again.

  16. I think its swings and roundabouts at the moment, Green did well for the equaliser and Albert for the 2nd and late defensive duties. I’ve read Grealish was man marked all game but made the crucial passes for the late goals. What seems true to me is we are playing more as a team and don’t give up ( improved fitness?) but unlike many of the teams vying for top 6 we have several match winners to call on, Jack , McGinn, Tammy and Mings all can make things happen and others have raised their game. Sheff wed really only put three shots on goal we had 5 and thats the story of our season, given enough chances we will score in comparison to many other teams, we have added resilience and dare I say luck to the mix? or thinly disguised hard work 🙂

    Talking of which We are now 2 goals behind WBA with 73 one more than we managed all last season, we have conceded 14 more though at this point but have lost 2 less games if we can keep winning. We can’t overhaul last seasons 24 wins though to many drawers.

    Worth watching this Vlog from the away fans perspective, especially the last 5 mins and penalty save.

  17. PP- I think without Hourihane on the pitch those set pieces lose something.

    Rotherham have only lost 4 at home all season, maybe a consequence of their small ground but we need to be up for it no doubt.

  18. I’ve calmed down now although I must say my coleslaw and potato salad last night tasted so good. I thought the performance was one of our poorer ones of late, but that may be down to Sheff Weds. So a win in those circumstances is really uplifting.

    Villa’s equalizer was sublime. Ming’s exquisite cross field pass, Green’s exceptional cross and McGinn’s breathtaking onion bagger. We have winners at the back, midfield and up front.

    I agree with comments from other lifers about Rotherham. It will be altogether a different game based on no nonsense tackling and route 1 attack. We will need to front up or we could get a bloody nose. A couple of fresh legs would help, but I’m sure DS knows the way forward.

    Exciting innit?

  19. what a day Saturday. results in our favour and a late win over bruce 🙂

    This season we have scored so many injury time goals, even under bruce.

    never known anything like it. makes a change going against us!
    did anyone else watch the sky latest results. went mad when we went 2 -1 up and was still dancing around when they said 4th goal at Hillsborough! my heart sunk as thought it would be 2-2. amazing

  20. Know the feeling Heroes and Villans, but fortunately, I was watching a very good live stream, so watched as Tammy managed to recover, turn, and stick it in the net! A great feeling, especially having triumphed over Wednesday, with the only sad moment being Bannan having to go off, but it certainly worked in our favour, and it was very respectful of the Villa fans to cheer him off.

    Wonder what old JL is making of all this, and whether he has come to accept that Dean has in the end managed to do a better job with mainly the same players…..

  21. what has happened to JL?

    Rotherham will be tricky. only lost 4 times at home.

    I feel we need to keep a winning run on as Norwich and leeds last 2 games are horrible. Need it almost done by then

  22. One pundit thinks it will be us and Leeds in the final so that last but one game might be telling.

    Much rather have derby or WBA over two legs than Leeds or Sheffield. That said we have come close to beating Leeds with 3 RB’s in the defence and no Jack, also came back from the brink against Sheffield to 3-3 also without Jack. The one thrashing was with a decent enough side at Sheffield under Bruce with no Tammy and unfortunately Jedinak at CB.

  23. Heroes-and-Villans
    Fortunately Derby & Bristol City play each other at the same time we play Leeds on 27th.
    Also BC play the baggies tonight, & let’s hope Derby screws up at Blackburn.

    Then there’s us playing BC on 13th at home, but we need to keep winning anyway.
    We also could do with Small Heath inadvertently doing us a favour against Derby on 19th.

    Then BC’s away game on 22nd against Bruce’s lot is not an easy game.
    Neither is their 30th April Tuesday game against Millwall away, as Millwall will be fighting relegation, & at home to boot.

    Finally Derby’s Wednesday 1st May evening away match against Swansea is not a foregone conclusion.
    Neither is the last day of the season’s game against the Baggies.

    We need to keep on winning, so a 6 point gap by the last 2 games would make it academic.

  24. Happy to see Bristol City beat the Baggies with Weimann’s contribution, and Baker doing ok .
    Hopefully we will take advantage of their defensive weaknesses, but was impressed with their crosses and dead ball use. Pity we don’t have a throw in expert like Dwight Gayle, as we tend to waste all ours.
    Tonight’s results pretty well going in our favour, and now looking forward to tomorrow’s offerings.

  25. PP
    I’m less happy as we’re now 6th with BC 2 points ahead, even though Derby are now 2 points below us.
    All on same games played.
    Oh well, I suppose we’ve got to beat BC anyway next Saturday

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