This match was the first away game that I have managed to attend this season and hopefully the last one anybody will have to endure with Steve Bruce’s jurassic management of our talent filled squad.
Whilst Hourihane did send us fans into a limbs filled frenzy with an absolute peach of a free kick in the last minute, the performance was damning. During his two year spell at the club, Bruce has chopped and changed his starting team and the formation that he deploys them in yet one thing has remained constant and that is the complete and utter lack of cohesion or style of play. Our squad is capable of incredible football which will in turn breed consistent results and a content fanbase. What we once again witnessed in the beautiful and scenic city of Blackburn… was a team of ones having to resort to hoofball. Here is my take on the situation after yesterdays game:
Steve Bruce has always had mixed reviews from Villa fans, with debates over the significancy of performances or results continually arising simultaneously. However, Twitter and these debates were always unrepresentative of the fans at games (away matches especially) who supported Bruce seemingly as a majority. This changed after our mauling to Sheffield United and the change in fans opinions was incredibly evident yesterday. I disagreed with those shouting Bruce out related chants during the game as it could easily affect players and lose us points; yet I totally share their opinion. On the coach home, you could not find a single fan capable of justifying a single reason why Bruce should still be our manager. Without away support, managers never last long and therefore the potato should have been shipped out during the International break. I fear that the failure of our owners to do this could lead to more dropped points and discontent as Bruce tries to coach past his sell by date.
Since Bruce came into the club, we have continually seen a talent filled squad underperform. Yes, we have had period of good results, but these have all been completely reliant on individiual stand out performances and most of these were down to pure chance anyway. Adomah, for instance, only got a spell of games on the left flank due to injuries and went on to score 14 goals; saving the gaffers job as his brother seemed to enjoy pointing out on Twitter.
The very thing we lack is at its most blatent when we play teams like Brentford and get passed off of the pitch by a team far less experienced, expensive and I’d argue talented. Since Bielsa came in at Leeds, the players have clearly been coached to play shorter passes and although their fans claiming they are now an English Barcelona is clearly delusional, his impact is plain to see. He has made a difference within 3 months, Bruce has had two years and I genuinely have no idea what has been going on at Bodymoor Heath.
Yesterday’s game showcased this yet again, as we hit all goal kicks and short free kicks long and up to a completely isolated Abraham or over Elmohamady’s head. This is one of the many reasons why we fail to dominate games or hold possession for long periods of time.
All of our passing spells with the ball on the floor come as a result of McGinn usually or one of the other players winning a second ball or making an interception in midfield. When we do eventually get the ball on the floor, we do get some success down the wings but our team is still so painfully static. Super Jack usually picks the ball up and dribbles around, playing one-two’s with anyone wiling to receive the ball, in a desperate attempt to initiate movement in the side. This does occasionally work but just imagine the increased number of chances we would create if our players actually moved more for each other.
A clear example of this yesterday was when Grealish ran across the entire width of the pitch, turning multiple times in the process, before being dispossessed by Dack who then launched a counter attack against us. It is easy to blame Jack for this yet I was watching our wingers and both were stood dead still; in the middle, Abraham had two centre backs on him. The lack of options is a result of the shackles Bruce has our players playing in. Somebody yesterday described us as a ferrari towing a caravan and Bruce is this caravan. The players are stuck in set positions, with far too many defensive responsibilites to enable the free flowing style of play that us fans cry out for. During his reign, I cannot recall ever seeing our wingers and stiker freely rotate; this is a staple part of modern attacking football that all successful modern teams excell at (Liverpool, Man City etc…) and we will never witness it under Bruce.
I previously eluded to the performances against results debate, which has a really simple and obvious answer. They are basically one and the same in the long term. Consistent results will only come as a product of consistently good performances. Cardiff are an obvious counter example to this point yet anyone who either wants us to play like them or fails to see the amount of luck and unlikelihood of a team playing like them and getting promoted is not looking hard enough. We need promotion, it is a financial requirement nonetheless and therefore we need to make decisions as a club that give us the highest possible chance of promotion. This means we need attacking and expansive football (this is an impossibility under Bruce). Fulham, Wolves and Newcastle are all examples of this working in recent years and we need to become the next team on that list.
We always play with a defensive midfielder who fails to really start moves and is only in the team for their abilities off the ball. This is a good idea against stronger opponents when we need to think defensively, but this is the Championship and with attackers like Abraham, Bolasie, Grealish and El Ghazi to boast, we are the big fish. Weaker teams like Blackburn (no offence intended to them, they have only just been promoted) should be setting up defensively to play against us. We, on the other hand, should setup in a way that allows us to have the ball and maximises our attacking threat.
Why have we never started three dynamic midfielders? Grealish, McGinn and Hourihane would offer so much as a unit and if you put any three of out electric attackers infront of them and allowed them to play as an actual front three, with rotation and movement, then we could be an incredibly entertaining and dangerous side. Instead, we tie our hands behind our own backs and allow teams to attack us. Attack is the best form of defence and always will be (especially with our squad) so lets actually do it.
Alternatively, we could try actually starting a game with two strikers; our opponents always seem comfortable with the ball in defence (even when the defenders are literal donkeys). If we had two strikers pressing them when they had the ball; winning our countless long balls and knocking them down to each other or even just pulling their team out of shape then we would pose much more of a threat. Abraham did brilliantly with what he was given yesterday throughout the game, yet when Kodjia was finally brought on, their combination player produced almost instant results. Abraham turned his man with a sensational bit of footwork and played a one-two off of KOdjia, before firing the ball wide. This move tore the Blackburn defence apart; the only shame is that the players never have the opportunity to do it regularly. Instead, we occasionally get down the wing and try to cross a ball into the singular (marked) striker in the box.
The positive of this thread of negativity (my apologies) is that we have so, so many option going forward, We ARE a massive club and our pulling power has left us once again with an incredibly good squad for this division. We have more than enough quality to get out of this league, lets hope the owners make the right decision soon and we get using it.
Regrettably, I cannot make it to too many away games, yet everytime that I make the trip it is the atmosphere that makes the occasion worth it. From before hand in the concourse, with the Tuanzebe chant ringing out over the sound of beer splattering every wall in sight, to the jubilation as Hourihane bent his 93rd minute masterpeice into the net; the fans were fantastic. Blackburn has the most bizarre stand of embarrassing twelve year old ultras and hearing 4000 voices giving them a taste of true support and class was extremely satisfying. The round of “get your tits our for the lads” that was chanted as one of them made the mistake of getting his jugs out was a personal favourite.
Regrettably in my opinion, the fans did turn on bruce during the 90 minuites, personally I feel the crowd should only offer support before the final whistle sounds but this sledging never transcended to the players which was a bonus. At the end of the day, it does send a message to the owners, and even if chanting bruce out after the game would have achieved the same results, fans that travel the length of the country week in, week out, have earned the right to voice their opinion as they please, esopecially after 2 years of loyalty.
Overall, we managed to get a point on the road despite not playing to anywhere near out potential. However, we did see glimmers of this potential and I am sure that under the right management we won’t be thereabouts… we will actually be there. We did not play awfully against Blackburn and fans should find plenty of hope in our new signings; Bolasie, Abraham and McGinn all have shed loads to offer us . In addition, Nyland has shown some great signs and made another great save yesterday. Officiating in this division can only be described as disturbing yet this should not be blamed for our failure to win; we should have had a stone wall penalty but their goal was not offside so it evened out in the end.
Yesterdays last gasp equaliser left me with a very bittersweet feeling as it was fantastic to celebrate the goal, yet it may well have saved the job of the man holding us back. This bittersweet feeling is going to be echoed in the concluding statement of my lenghty article: Bruce is not the man to get us out of the Championship, but I believe we do have the correct squad to comfortably get promotion.
UTV and thanks for reading,
By Callum Richardson