By Ryan Pitcher
Forget the hung parliament.
Following the annihilation suffered yesterday at Sheffield United this Bruce in/out argument is no longer, is it? He has to go, right?
I get no pleasure in quoting The Hives when I say, ‘Hate to Say I Told You So.’
Early November 2016 and Steve Bruce had been in charge for five matches and Villa had appeared to have turned a corner and were unbeaten since he had come in. ‘Doing what Bruce does best’ the mainstream media would have you believe.
At that time I published an article questioning the sustainability of the negative football on offer and suggested that Villa had been “lucky” in avoiding defeat against Wolves and Reading in Bruce’s first two matches in charge. I posted a few statistics and analysis to try and help substantiate my claims in those early days that we wouldn’t be going nowhere with this dinosaur at the helm.
In response I received dogs abuse, with many supporters saying that I should, “just enjoy the fact that we’re no longer losing!” Because there isn’t more to football than just that, is there? Shoot me please.
Ever since then and up until recently I’ve been used to being in the minority but over the past few weeks we’ve seen a full-blown swing in the polls and yesterday’s shambles has only fuelled the fire some more. Without question there are now more Bruce ‘Outers’ than Bruce ‘Inners’.
Today I bring you yet another guide as to why Steve Bruce just has to go.
Win % (against the teams where it arguably matters most)
Bruce’s win percentage is at a very respectable 47.1% having won 41 of 87 matches whilst he’s been in charge. One cannot quibble at our home form either having lost just five in 44.
Although this makes for decent reading on paper, when you dissect as to where we’ve picked up most of our points then it’s a little less flattering. Excluding the half-dozen matches that we’ve played so far this season as this cannot be calculated into the next statistic, Villa have lost more matches against the teams that finished in the top 16 no less, than we’ve actually won.
Of the 81 matches that can be used in the forthcoming stat, Villa have played a total of 29 matches against the ‘relegation fodder’ (the bottom third) and boast a strong record of 20 wins and 5 draws. Whereas against the top two thirds of the table Bruce’s record is nowhere near what you’d expect for a club that – on paper – boasts one of the best (and expensive) squads since dropping a division:
Played: 52 / Won: 19 / Draw: 13 / Lost: 20
Under the right stewardship I, like many Villans, believe that we’ve got what it takes to be competing for a top two finish. If we’re to do that then we really have to improve our points return on the road by around 50% over the course of a season.
Over the past five Championship seasons the top two finishers have only lost a comined 51 matches (from 230) with an average of 1.84 points away from home. Villa are at 1.23 losing 20 of our 43 away league matches with Bruce in charge. Based on past seasons – in order to get to the dizzy heights of automatic promotion – we need to be losing less than one in 4 away matches (22.2%) whereas Bruce has a 46.5% loss rate. This is nowhere near good enough.
What with the managers reluctance to try and get on top and smother our opposite number when on our travels then I just can’t ever foresee the seizmic turnaround that’s required to be up there whilst Bruce is at the club. We’re just far too defensive and going forward it’s ever so laboured and not what you’d expect from the group of players that we have. That’s not their fault, it’s the fault of the restrictive nature in which Bruce deploys and wants his troops to play. This whole ‘keep it tight’ methodology with the hope of nicking a goal from a setplay.
Signings & Playing Style
We can all have a pop at the likes of Michah Richards and Ross McCormack and speak of how much we squandered in the short time Roberto Di Matteo was at the club – and rightly so.
But as I’ve mentioned previously, I never really see much with regards to the poor value Bruce has brought into the dressing room. The cristism I’m just about to dish out isn’t solely aimed at Bruce but it is levelled at the club as a whole for allowing it to happen.
Neil Taylor, Henri Lansbury, Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane and Scott Hogan. If these five players see out their contracts with the club, including transfer fees, then this will have cost the club north of £45 million. Under normal circumstances you might argue that we could simply offload these players but we’re paying them such a wage that it makes it nigh on impossible to flog them to any Championship club – and no Premier League clubs are ever going to be interested.
The way that the club is being run is unsustainable. This is our last year of parachute money and this annum’s figure is significantly less than the past couple of seasons. Bruce’s philosophy of just going out and getting some of the best names, chucking them together and expecting the result whilst keeping it tight is a really strange combination.
As stated in another article recently, it is really difficult to point to what the players have worked on in training from one week to the next. Nothing much seems to change. Bruce is approaching the two year mark at the club and yet still we don’t have a playing style as such – except for making hard work of things.
By no means am I saying that football management is simple. I’d imagine it’s far from easy. But it’s clear for anyone who knows anything about football that we have the players that are more than capable of playing much more free and expressive just as Wolves did last season, Newcastle and Brighton before that and as we saw from the likes of Burnley, Watford and Leicester when they were down in the Championship. Without doubt we’d get more points on the board with a manager who doesn’t fear losing and doesn’t wish to merely try and eek out a result.
Away from Villa for a moment. Within the Heart of the Holte group chat just the other day, one of our writers Daniel Horton mentioned an interesting interview with Ryan Mason that he happened to have listened to recently, during which he said just how much he enjoyed playing under Pochettino at Spurs where defenders were expected to do their job and defend which meant that the midfield were able to go about their business and break up play, advance up the pitch and influence attacks. Whereas it was completely different at Hull where Mike Phelan (Bruce’s former assistant incidentally) was in charge. He hated playing in central midfield because the manager expected him do more of a central defenders role first and then be a midfielder.
Another one of our writers Callum Richardson summed this up extremely well in his response, ‘That’s exactly why our midfield struggles. A three man midfield should dominate most games, especially with our quality. Hourihane is being held back from the type of player he was at Barnsley and Grealish doesn’t get enough goals and assists either. If the shackles were off them two then they’d get mad returns.’
And he’s spot on. How many times have you come away from watching Villa and thought our lone front man didn’t have enough bodies around him?
As excited as I am to see wingers Anwar El Ghazi and Yannick Bolasie at the club, I was left baffled with the events of Friday and the tricky situation that Uncle Albert now finds himself.
It was obvious from early on that the London born Ghanaian wasn’t one of Bruce’s favourites. But against all the odds every time the manager has looked to move him down the order – or perhaps replace him – Adomah has fought hard and earned his name on the teamsheet. He was Villa’s top goalscorer last season with 15.
Having allowed Andre Green make a loan move to Pompey on Wednesday it seemed inconceivable that Bruce would allow another ‘specialist’ winger to leave the club, especially as Bolasie won’t be match fit for a period of time. I understand that we were in for Crystal Palace’s Jason Puncheon but I really can’t see what he can offer that Adomah cannot.
All of this must be a real kick in the balls for Adomah. He may not be Premier League standard but we are a Championship football club and he sure as heck does a decent job at this level. He’s a player that has given his all since being with the club and after last season he deserves to be treated with much more dignity than Bruce has shown him this week.
I’ve never been able to get my head around the support for Steve Bruce. None more so for the reasoning that say if by some miracle (trust me it won’t happen) he was able to get us back up then do you really think that setting up the way he does is a viable option in the Premier League? We’d get torn a new one week-in-week-out.
What with the wealth of our new majority shareholders, would you really trust Bruce with a sizeable transfer kitty? Heck – he can’t even get the best out of our ‘flair’ players at this level and so I certainly wouldn’t want him to go and blow £15-£20 million on another only for him to be playing as a defence-minded left wing back.
As I’ve said time-and-time again, with the individual player quality that we have at our disposal then we will see off most opposition in this division. Thus meaning that most of the time the players will win their indivdual battles out on the pitch and that’s usually good enough to pick up maximum points – especially against poor opposition (as Bruce’s track record against the bottom third of the table shows).
Whereas if we were to have a manager that trusts his players more, allowed them to go out and play and worked on clicking through the gears as a team, then we’d be a much more resolute unit. And that’s the diffeence from being a play-off to mid-table side to one that has a genuine chance of finishing in the top two.
The fact is that we’ve looked far from convincing this season. From the moment we struggled past Hull in our opening match and getting ourselves out of jail five days later against Wigan. The last gasp equaliser at home to Brentford was the sandwich between draws against two sides who’ll be battling the drop this year – one of which were down to 10 men for an hour. Yesterday was the first time we’d come up against a side that are tipped to go well and to say that we failed to compete would be an understatement. We got destroyed.
It has now comes to a head and I really don’t want to continue beating the same drum that I’ve been doing for the past two years. I’m getting really bored of it now. The sooner Bruce goes the sooner I can begin to write some inspiring pieces on the club that I hold so dear.
Act now and we give ourselves a chance. I really don’t want it to be yet another case of ‘Hate to Say I Told You So.’
UP THE VILLA!
Check out our video where we discuss whether Bruce is the man for the job… We think you know the answer.