Aston Villa Fail the Initial Test of Promotion Candidates

‘At no point has Steve Bruce had Villa playing like a cohesive team’

Jingle Balls

“Christmas is a defining moment,” said Steve Bruce, at the start of December, after a 1-1 draw at Elland Road.

“You go into the New Year thinking where are we, what have we got to do?” Added the Villa boss.

After a winless five game run so far in what Aston Villa owner Tony Xia has called a ‘disaster month’, Villa have dropped out of the play-off places.

Go back four weeks, and the month of December with games against a series of teams with their own promotion ambitions, was billed as the period Villa supporters would find out whether their team were genuine automatic promotion candidates or play-off hopefuls at best.

As the Villa boss has repeatedly stated, the winter is a key time for solidifying promotion challenges.

What MOMS didn’t expect was Villa to slip out of the top six altogether.

Going into December, Villa were fourth, two points off second place Cardiff and six points clear of the team in seventh. Now they find themselves in ninth, three points off the play-offs and nine points off automatic promotion.

Villa’s problem isn’t exclusive to the month of December though.

Underlining Issues

At no point has Steve Bruce had Villa playing like a cohesive team since he’s been here. A team that looks to dominate proceedings with the players it has. Instead, they have tended to have won games through individuals turning it on in games.

Several Villa players have been bought in recent transfer windows individually as the best in the division with seemingly little foresight into how they’d fit in.

Ross McCormack & Scott Hogan both needed to play in a certain system of play. Have you seen any evidence of a system?

Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury were known at their previous clubs for leading their clubs’ attacking charge from midfield, at Villa they often play in more withdrawn roles with varying success.

Birkir Bjarnason? What was the thinking in terms of where he’d play? Because currently he’s a questionable buy.

Excuses, excuses

Much has been made of Villa’s injuries being an excuse for their December drop in form, but when you look outside the Villa bubble, injuries have happened to most clubs.

The two main injuries have been John Terry and Jonathan Kodjia, but Villa should have a strong enough squad to cope.

While Terry has been impressive for Villa, the team still won their first three games after the 37-year-old was sidelined. In terms of Jonathan Kodjia, the Ivorian was a bit-player in Villa’s best XI this season, as they looked more of a team without him.

Kodjia’s single-mindedness worked because he was suited to the team’s primitive approach last season of trying to be tight at the back and hoping to snatch something at the other end. That approach ultimately wasn’t even good enough for a top half finish and Villa have made noticeably more progress this season without him, although he’s always a good option.

It’s also hard to have sympathy for Villa, after they let Kodjia go off on international duty when he hadn’t been fit to play for his club for weeks. If you’re serious about promotion, it’s worth playing bad cop with the player and playing hardball with the international manager.

In recent weeks the likes of Jack Grealish, Scott Hogan and Mile Jedinak have returned to fitness, thus giving Villa a fuller squad to choose from.

MOMS doesn’t buy the injury excuse. If you want to look at why results have been below expectations, just look at some of the individual errors in games that have gifted goals and the lack of idea and dimension going forward.

Brentford Blues

Villa have also often come unstuck against proper committed team performances.

If you want evidence of Villa’s limitations, see the four performances against an ever-changing Brentford team over the last two seasons. They’ve outplayed us every time and we’ve failed to beat them in four attempts.

Last season, despite Villa signing their supposed best player Scott Hogan before the game, Brentford beat Villa 3-0. That Villa team had both Jonathan Kodjia in it and Nathan Baker, the player some fans still cry about losing, yet we were outclassed.

One thing that is increasingly apparent is it doesn’t matter too much about the names on the Villa team sheet, but the way they play on the pitch.

The club’s talk about creating a ‘Villa way’ or ‘Villa engine’ have been empty words so far, as the only thing visible is short-termism with loans and old heads.

The purchase of James Bree for example, looked like a step in the direction of buying a talented young player that would go on to develop into a core player in the future, but zero faith has been put in him so far.

As a result, Villa will be in need of a huge overhaul next season whether they’re promoted or not.

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Old Boys

It’s fine if the experienced players that Bruce have drafted in, do their job, but when players like Whelan and Jedinak are repeatedly making school boy errors, then they are only contributing to the stagnation of the club.

Their remit (and why they are paid handsomely at Premier League rates) is to help get the club promoted, as they won’t have much of a shelf life after that. If they fail though, you might as well had blooded younger players who will grow to play a part in Villa’s future.

“That’s the Championship”

Bruce seems keen to remind us how difficult the Championship is. His catchphrase “that’s the Championship” is something MOMS was hoping would be consigned to the dustbin of 2017.

If the Championship is so difficult then explain this…

Last season Neil Warnock took over a hapless Cardiff team in the same week as Bruce took over the Villa job. They were below Villa in the table, but fast-forward to this season and the Bluebirds are now a legitimate candidate for automatic promotion without spending hardly any money.

Warnock has out-performed Bruce with ease and at the fraction of the cost.

Likewise, look at Bristol City, the Robins finished 17th last season in the Championship and after buying one of our ‘rejects’ in Nathan Baker are currently in second place and also have reached a League Cup semi-final after knocking Manchester United out.

Both these teams have started in worse positions than Villa have under Bruce and without any big spending or getting ‘known’ players in. Wolves too also finished 15th last season and look at how they’ve turned things around.

In the context of this, the Championship isn’t that hard if you sort yourself out. Huddersfield last season is another example of this, a team tipped for relegation at the start of the season.

The Villa boss stated after the Brentford loss that Villa were only a ‘week away from a crisis’ alluding to the expectations of supporters. Apart from the Villa Twitteratti at the start of the season, Villa fans have been largely been supportive and understanding, despite being frustrated at what they have been paying to watch.

This is now not about having a bad week. The month of December has proved that there has been no progress on the pitch.

We are treading water and that is in danger of turning into quicksand very quickly.


The next MOMS podcast episode will certainly be interesting. Subscribe below to the show on Apple/iTunes


  1. the biggest thing is the team has gone from settled to who knows who will play,, and injuries have had an effect
    we have very talented players at this level,, but the manager is the problem and i have absolutely no confidence in him being able to get us promoted
    i want him gone,,, but we might have to wait till the summer,,, maby he can bring in the missing players we need but with every defeat we look less attractive,, and surely boro and bristol will give us a doo-ing
    that might be the end for bruce anyway,,,,
    its crazy but he genuinely looks clueless at times and whelans and jedis mistakes have been very very costly

  2. After 16 months 2 transfer windows, spending far more than other teams Bruce still has no idea what his best team is, how, they should line up, and what tactics to play. Any other industry he would be long gone. Yes I know we should not keep changing, but he has failed in every aspect. The Ipswich game is the only home game I have seen when we looked in control. Away has been a disaster apart from handful of isolated performances. Now I’m sure in January he will bring in that clown from Stoke berehino who fits into our plans. Does not want to play, and I want a load of omenyyfor doing nothing like Richards, Lescott, Abonglahor, plus the half dozen or so we have forgotten about on loan who’s wages we still subcidise. Yes this is not just Bruce but a succession of diabolical managerial and over paid “Chief Executives” decisions. I hope Onamah who goes missing in games is recalled then we might see the likes of O’ hare progressing. Why pay extra to develop players for other clubs to benefit? It’s crazy. Bruce will probably bring in another holding midfield player who is totally unable to pass a ball in any other direction than back ( statistically some must go the opposition) and play him alongside Whelan and Jedinak. I cannot see Bruce getting us into the playoffs and must not be given more players so he has an excuse for them to bed in! Manage what you have its far more than any other team in the division Villa.

  3. I agree and yes a new manager would surely be delighted with the players, but I also think that Bruce must have something against O’Hare because he should be playing, far better than Agbonlahor who is clearly a Bruce favourite, now we’re being linked with more Hull players ex Bruce, well for me forget it they have been relegated, we need much higher calibre players. And we need to get attack minded, sadly I believe that’s beyond Bruce and the sooner he goes the better. If we loose today which is likely a change has to be made whilst we’re still just in touch.
    Theses are my opinions which I’m entitled to having spent loads of money watching this dross.

  4. This is a great piece, summarising Villa’s on the pitch problems during Steve Bruce’s tenure. It analyses our current situation perfectly and compares us to other teams in the league. We are 11 individuals instead of a proper team. Even our wins are not convincing. We lack pace and look stretched at the back, defending against proper committed team performances. Opponents players find each other and move off the ball with ease although they might lack quality. We have quality but pass it sideways so often because of not being a team. The Wolves, Cardiff and Bristol City situation compared to Villa proves there is another way of doing things and Villa clearly are not getting it right.

  5. You are 100% correct in everything you write. Normally you can see what a team is trying to do even if the are not doing it. Villa lack all cohesion, giving the ball away with such regularity you would think their team mates are strangers whose location on the pitch is a mystery which requires a backward pass to solve. Top teams have a system, a style of play. Yes, they adapt that system to meet particular opposition but Plan A is there and you can see it. The players know what they are doing within that system. When acquired Hogan, McCormack, Lansbury, Hourihane, Elhamady, Snodgrass, Whelan, Terry and even Samba seemed just the players that we needed. That’s nine players, almost a team in themselves! Terry aside has any one of them impressed? Bruce’s track record says that he is the man for the job. People are calling to give younger players a chance but Bruce is right in knowing the type of player needed in the Championship and he is reluctant to give the youngsters their chance because he knows his nine players above plus Chester, Taylor Hutton, Grealish, Jedinak…..should be capable of automatic promotion. Bruce’s failure is that he has not been able to blend them into anything even remotely resembling a team. A new manager would be delighted with the squad he inherits.

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