Ahead of the new season our man Ryan Pitcher was once again asked by our friends down at Brentford Football Club, The Beesotted Fans Network, to give his thoughts on all things Villa and what to expect from for the 2018-19 Championship season.
Every year Beesotted ask a representative of a suppoter group from each of the division’s 24 clubs to answer some questions. Written last week the article went live yesterday.
Ryan was near bang on with his 5th place prediction last term. What’s he saying this time around?
How would you describe last season for your club?
Very similar to our pre-season in fact, a real mixture of emotions. Throughout the season much of our football was actually quite tepid barring the 5-0 thumping of Bristol City, 4-1 victory over Wolves and a 4-0 battering of Ipswich near the end of the campaign. I feel that our final standing as third highest goal scorers in the division really did flatter us, what with our laboured brand of football, and without those trio of freak results then we’d have been more towards the figure that I had anticipated. As well as this we were defensively stout.
After that monumental effort against Wolves in early March we’d given ourselves a real shout of the automatic promotion places with just 10 matches to go, we were seven points from Nuno’s men and four off of Cardiff. Prior to that result we’d gone to Hillsborough and bagged four goals there and at Sunderland we’d scored three. Confidence appeared to be high among the players and the fans were lapping it up and then we just seem to crash and ended up picking up just a solitary point in the next three (QPR, Bolton & Hull). Game over.
One can only apologise to all you Bees fans for that play-off final showing against your nearest and not so dearest. The way in which we set our stall out to play that fateful afternoon simply exemplified Bruce’s ‘tough to beat’ philosophy. It’s rare for a team to win these one-off matches where the stakes are of a biblical level when approaching it so negatively. Even when up against 10 men we failed to throw the kitchen sink, we didn’t even fashion a chance. Heartbreaking.
What are your hopes for 2018-19 season?
Up until a week or so ago my only hope was that Villa would be able to complete the upcoming season having staved off a winding up order! It’s strange how quickly the narrative can swing in such a small space of time in football. With the introduction of our new billionaire investors Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens we have achieved everything that I had wanted prior to a ball even being kicked!
As we all know, what we hope for and what we expect are two very different things. I hope for a really positive season, one in which we’re competing for the top two slots in order to avoid the lottery of the play-offs, however, what with having to comply to the constraints of FFP and having Bruce at the helm I just can’t see it happening.
There’s a real divide among the supporters in terms of Steve Bruce and I think it’s obvious where I sit with regards to this topic. For as much as I admire the man for continuing to guide the club during a time in which he lost both of his parents in such a short space of time, I just can’t help but feel that he’s not the man for us.
We were packing a lot of high-earning deadwood when we came down from the Premier League and then Roberto Di Matteo was given a pot of money to squander. But when I compare the acquisitions under Bruce I see little difference to what came in before and yet there is still a large proportion of the fan based who talk-up the supposed ‘stability’ that he has given us.
Casting my eye of a sample of Bruce’s signings: Hogan, Lansbury, Hourihane, Bjarnason, Taylor and Whelan. These six players cost us just shy of £200k-a-week in wages. Of these six we have a striker that we shelled £9.5m on that (when fit) is just not compatible to Bruce’s playing style, a midfielder on a reported £40k-a-week who spends most of his time on the bench, another central midfielder on around £30k-a-week whose legs have gone and a left-back that turns backwards every time an opposition player comes within 10 yards of him. For as much as I hold our former majority shareholder Dr Tony Xia accountable for bringing the club to it’s knees, both Bruce along with RDM before him were naive in thinking that this level of wastage could ever be sustainable.
If Bruce couldn’t do it with the squad that he had assembled last season, with players such as Terry and Snodgrass at the club as well, then I have little to no confidence that we’ll be up there challenging this time around.
How are you getting on in the transfer market? Bought or losing anyone?
At the time of writing we had only been able to acquire one signing so far and that’s Andre Moreira [edit: at this time he hadn’t yet been officially announced], a young goalkeeper on loan from Atletico Madrid.
As I touched upon above we’ve lost two big players what with Snoddy returning to West Ham and JT hanging up his boots. It remains to be seen what other business will happen between now and the 9th August.
The key thing for me is keeping hold of Jack Grealish and James Chester. Despite feeling that we still need to strengthen in order to compete towards the top, keeping hold of these two had to be the primary focus. I sense that if we were to be able to keep them both then we have enough in us to at least remain competitive but long-term, will that be enough to keep them at the football club? Probably not. Especially not Jack.
Who was your biggest hero last season?
Once he got himself fully fit then it was ‘Super’ Jack. But in terms of being a rock throughout then James Chester. I think JT got in the Championship ‘Team of the Year’ on name alone. Anyone who watched Villa regularly last season bore witness to just how solid the Welsh international was at the heart of the backline. Albert deserves a special mention too!
Who was your biggest disappointment?
Pretty much anyone that played up front. It’s an area of the pitch that we’ve struggled to nail since Kodjia’s heroics in 2016-17. It has been swapped and changed around so much and going into this season I’m still not sure as to who will get the nod.
Despite scoring a few goals in pre-season Kodjia still doesn’t appear to be the same specimen he was prior to his injury hell. Hyperthetically, young Keinan Davis and Scott Hogan should work well as a big man/small man combo but Bruce doesn’t like to play two up top.
And we’ve lost Lewis Grabban who was very much hit and miss in his short spell with the club.
Which of your players should we most be looking out for?
At just 19 years of age Jake Doyle-Hayes looks to be a good prospect, he’s got the physique of a player who could turn into a real marauding midfield general. That said my pick for who to ‘look out for’ goes to Andre Green, a quick-fotted winger whose now back after far too much time in the treatment room. Having him back is very much like a new signing for us and I just feel that if he stays fit then he could come good for us this season. Having lost Snoddy he just has to step it up.
Other that your team (of course) what team would you put £100 on for promotion?
I fancy Stoke to go straight back up but the best price you can get for that is 2/1 and I feel that although short it’s a fair price. But my outside money would be on Nottingham Forest to go up. Aitor Karanka is a solid manager and they’ve bought well this summer with 10 new arrivals and there’s still time for some more. We saw the Portuguese light up the division last season for Wolves and I expect a few of their lads will try and emulate that. They’ve brought in a strong blend of solidness, experience and flair. 4/1 does feel a little light though.
What team would you lump £100 on for relegation?
It wouldn’t be a surprise for me if Reading were to struggle this season. Although I actually quite like Paul Clement, I look at that Reading squad and it just doesn’t really do much for me. I think that they are fortunate that there will be at least three teams worse off than them but teams like Rotherham and Bolton are far too short of a price for me to part with my hard-earned. Based on fan discontent and the potential to implode then I’d be tempted to stick the money on Hull City. Although I’d love it to be Blues!
What team is going to be win the Ian Holloway trophy and be the surprise packet this season?
This is such a tough one! I’d say Derby County. I’m very intrigued by the appointment of Frank Lampard as manager and it’ll be very interesting to see how he gets on. They could end up being there or thereabouts come the end of the season. I feel that Harry Wilson whose on loan from Liverpool could be one of the stand-out players of the Championship this season, he looked really menacing and a top prospect when on loan at Hull for the second half of last season.
What is your must-go-to match of the season and why?
C’mon Billy! You can ask me this every year and for as long as we’re in the same league as our Second City neighbours then the answer will always be the same! It’s the first fixture I look out for.
What fans impressed you most last season?
Leeds always make a racket and so I’d probably say them.
If you could be granted one thing this season, what would it be?
Predicted league finish?
Well I was close last season, wasn’t I? I mean a lot does depend on the next week or so and whether we keep certain players and whether or not we stregthen.
My prediction is that Bruce will be gone by the end of the season, quite possibly even by the turn of the year. I think that Villa will finish 9th this season.
To view the full article ‘Championship Bloggers 2018/19 Season Predictions Part 1- Aston Villa Thru Norwich’ then please click here.
Thank you for taking the time to read.
UP THE VILLA!