Part 1: Bruce Takes Charge
So, it has finally happened. Steve Bruce has been sacked.
It is something that many Villa fans – including myself – have been calling for, for a long time, and after a poor result against Preston, the owners finally brought his time at the club to an end.
In this series of articles, I will be taking a look at Bruce’s time at the club; from his hiring in October 2016, to ‘Cabbage Gate’, and everything in between. So strap yourselves in for a long and eventful ride.
Part 1 is all about Bruce’s first season in charge.
Steve Bruce appointed
After the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, on the 3rd of October following only one win in his first 11 games, Steve Bruce takes over with Aston Villa sitting 19th in the Championship. His first game is a tough one, against local rivals Wolves.
Bruce tells reporters that he is “delighted” to manage the biggest club of his managerial career so far. He also says that he is “relishing the challenge” of taking the club back to where it belongs.
Although the club have started poorly, the new manager still believes that the squad is good enough to turn their fortunes around and push on for promotion, and he still has a massive 35 games to do this in. However, if this is going to be possible, then Bruce would need a good start.
Strong start and solid additions
And that’s exactly what he gets. Bruce makes a really good start to his tenure at the club, as Villa go on a 7 match unbeaten run, winning 4 games. In total, we lose only 2 out of 13 games (winning 7) on the run-in to his first transfer window and his first opportunity to shape his own team. This run leaves Villa 9th in the Championship, only 5 points off the playoffs.
Bruce says that Villa have to make an impression on the top 6, with the aim being to get into the playoffs this season. With the recent run of form, it looks like it should be possible.
The January transfer window is used to completely overhaul Bruce’s squad, as 7 players come in to the club (Henri Lansbury, James Bree, Birkir Bjarnason, Conor Hourihane, Neil Taylor, Scott Hogan and Sam Johnstone) and 7 players leave the club (Rudy Gestede, Ashley Westwood, Jordan Ayew, Pierluigi Gollini, Aly Cissokho, Aaron Tshibola and Ross McCormack), either on a permanent deal or on loan until the end of the season.
Post-Christmas and new-year slump
Instead of pushing on and building on the momentum, Villa completely fall away. From the 29th December 2016 to 20th February 2017 we go on a 9-game run without a win, losing 7 and drawing 2. This all but ends our hopes of an instant return to the Premier League. A 2-0 defeat away to Newcastle, including a Henri Lansbury own-goal – much to the delight of the Newcastle fans – leaves Villa languishing in 17th place, only 6 points above the relegation zone. It also puts us a massive 22 points away from the final play-off position.
Steve Bruce admits, after the game, that with the position Villa are in, relegation is now a concern. However, he remains “confident” that we won’t go down, despite stating that the current form and constant player mistakes are “hideous”.
This huge slump in form leads many Villa fans to take to Twitter to vent their frustrations. Steve Bruce’s style is questioned and many are genuinely worried that the club could be heading for another relegation.
An upturn in fortunes
Following our most disappointing part of the season, Villa suddenly start winning games. We win 7 out of the next 8 games, pushing us up to 11th; 9 points off the playoffs with just 5 games remaining.
During this period, our defence is rock solid. We concede only 1 goal – against eventual playoff winners Huddersfield, away from home – and out of nowhere look more assured in all areas. Whilst the style of play is still questionable, Villa are winning games again, leading to a much better atmosphere.
Could we make a late dash into the final play-off place?
In a word…no!
Villa win just once in the final 6 league games. However, that win comes against fierce rivals Birmingham City, with Gabriel Agbonlahor coming back in to the side, to score his token goal against the Blues. This angers Blues captain Paul Robinson, who inexplicably kicks James Chester and confirms his status as an absolute bellend!
Otherwise, the season peters out and Villa finish in 13th place, 18 points behind Fulham in 6th. It is a disappointing end to the season, especially considering how close we were to the playoffs at various points of the season.
All in all, our inconsistency is what kills us. We go from looking unbeatable at several points in the season, to completely disorganised and unmotivated at others. This is shown by the final statistics for Steve Bruce’s time at the club this campaign. They are as follows…
Games: 35 Wins: 15 Draws: 7 Losses: 13 GF: 37 GA: 36
This inconsistency is something that would need to change next season.
Bruce would now need to prepare well in his first pre-season as Villa manager, to ensure that his objective of promotion back to the Premier League is achieved.
To be continued…
By Daniel Horton