Do we deserve Hollywood or Hoofball?

We’ve made a very encouraging start to the season, winning our opening three games for the first time since 1962. It matters not who they’ve been against – the fact remains that no Aston Villa side for 56 years has achieved this particular feat. And no Villa side since 1931 has managed to win the first four. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Despite flying out of the blocks, opinion in the forums remains deeply divided on Steve Bruce. Plenty feel that keeping Bruce amid the turmoil of the summer was perhaps our best piece of business, and that his record since coming to Villa speaks for itself. He has a high win percentage and since he took over, our home form is the best in the country with no team taking more than our 96 points in home games. Very impressive, and we were 90 minutes from the Promised Land (©Sky Sports) before deciding not to turn up (again) at Wembley.

And therein lies (in part, at least) the problem for the Bruce doubters. It has been widely claimed that we assembled the most expensive squad in Championship history yet failed to secure our stated aim of promotion. In fairness to Bruce, the major spending occurred before his arrival, but he did receive not insignificant backing in the January 2017 transfer window to the tune of around £20m, although the summer and winter windows of last season were largely a mixture of free agents and loan signings.

Aside from the return this summer of Axel Tuanzebe, the loanees on which he built our challenge last year have gone and despite bringing in a couple of goalkeepers and the highly sought-after John McGinn, we have been left with an arguably weaker squad than finished last season in tears on the hallowed Wembley turf.

Apart from Bruce’s inability to live up to his ‘promotion specialist’ billing, huge question marks remain over his team selection and tactics. Despite the usual guff on his arrival from former Director of Football Steve Round about building a “Villa Engine”, there has been nothing to suggest that this way of playing through the age groups has made any progress or impact, especially not at first-team level.

Despite our ‘success’ in finishing fourth last season and reaching the play-off final, the feeling remains that we got there more by luck than judgement. Few were the occasions when we really dominated matches, and a heavy reliance on set-piece goals masked our deficiencies in open play where the tactic was, more often than not, to hoof it long to whoever happened to be playing up front and hope for the best. Sideways and backwards remained the mantra in the midfield areas and even now, we are content to concede possession and territory to try and remain compact and soak up pressure, defending leads rather than building on them.

Notwithstanding the fact we have won three in a row, no one in their right minds could possibly argue that it has been entertaining or enjoyable to watch. Edging a ‘five-goal thriller’ against Wigan sounds like a great game of football, but in truth, it was eye-gouging for the most part. The Yeovil game was beyond desperate. It could be argued that six changes from Hull to Wigan, and then nine from Wigan to Yeovil has not helped, but that belies the fact that any of the teams we have put out so far, on paper at least, should have had more than enough ability to perform better than they have done.

18 Replies to “The Deep Divisions Appear To Remain At Aston Villa. Hollywood Or Hoofball?”

  • Very good article JPA. I’m a bit split, I keep thinking imagine the results if/when we start playing well!

  • Just wished we played better football, I know most say 3 pts is all that matters, and that can only be down to the fact that premier league football is the holy grail.
    Steve Bruce is nice bloke I can’t disagree with that, but I can’t help think that with our money and Dean Smith at the helm, we could have both.

  • Just worry we are going to get the same as last season, a few barren spells will be the difference between us going up and not. We seem to concentrate on defence and midfield , and not have a plan in attack, case being two wide players against Yeovil and RHM the only forward , we appear always to be playing with no plan , can anyone see it improving under Bruce ??? … hope I’m wrong

  • I understand the appeal of Dean Smith but I suspect the social media rantosphere would rapidly do a “Paul Lambert” on him if he didn’t deliver the rapid free flowing WINNING football that all the football manager 2019 keyboard experts demand.

      • I would sincerely love DS to get the job and succeed. I would hate to see his Villa heart shredded by the fickle ranters who he couldn’t satisfy quick enough. They all saw Lambert’s Norwich give us a duffing and wanted Lambert as the next messiah. Brentford have urinated all over us 4 times, now they’ve identified the next messiah. The expectation would be too great. Best DS remains as a Villa fan who got his hands on the European Cup and who should have got the Villa job but didn’t.

  • The crux of this enigma , is watch Leeds and the Bielsa factor.SB can’t hide any longer.
    If he thinks that the academy youth is lacking ,it’s because he should have certain players
    Fit to play in their right position. and to their strengths .That was not the case at Yeovil.

    • Watch Leeds at the end of the season not after a couple of goals to see whether they have the messiah. I’m voting probably not

      • I agree. Leeds along with Derby have a history of starting well then faltering. Fulham were nowhere for the first half of last season and then put in a strong run when it mattered. I fancy us to do it this year…Whether it’s through luck or judgement… Preferably the latter, but I’ll take either as it stands. KTF SOTC UTV

  • I do think we may be some of the most hard to please fans in football. Whenever I speak to supporters of other clubs they really don’t understand why half our fans don’t want Bruce – most say we wont get a better man in our current position and he is a better bet than most to get us promoted. Plenty of people talk about not liking the style of football we play and I agree it is poor at times, although nowhere near as bad as some will make out. But this must have been the same recurring argument for the last 10 managers. Since Brian Little left we’ve had Gregory who built a decent team however there were still plenty of people complaining it was too defensive minded and boring – Taylors 2nd coming was a bit of a disaster – O’Leary got lucky 1 season when JPA wanted a new contract, the rest of his tenure was dire – MON built us a top 6 side but whenever we played one of the top teams it was 10 men behind the ball and try to hit teams on the counter – Houllier, McCleish, Lambert, Sherwood, Garde, RDM! Pretty clear we weren’t happy with those lot either. At this moment in time I personally couldn’t give a monkeys about the style of football, I just want us to win and get back up to the top flight. If we can achieve that and consolidate that’s the time to think about playing a more attractive game IMO. I really wish we could get behind the team and manager more rather than this same old argument week after week.

  • It comes down to confidence. Rio Ferdinand touched on it at the World Cup when he explained that all the England Managers he played under, didn’t want him to bring the ball out from defence – something that Gareth Southgate encouraged.

    Bruce was, and still is, a no nonsense, safety first central defender. He admits that he lies awake at night fearing losing. This is reflected in the style of play and the mind-set of our players. Steve Bruce is too long in the tooth to change his outlook and so we have to accept that this is the type of football we will watch if he is in charge. As he continues to say “we will be there or there-about” come the end of the season and I suggest that we will be play-off material again.

    If we accept the positives that Bruce has brought to the team and want to keep him, the only way that I see he can “improve” the style of football, would be to change the coaching staff. We did see a little “bounce” when Steve Agnew came in, but it would mean Bruce being disloyal to his coaching team – not something I associate with him.

    • “Merd”: Pretty much agree with all points made, though the thought of any of our squad (with the possible exception of Ritchie De Laet) trying to bring the ball out of defence terrifies me a little!

      The argument that many fans make for wanting to see tidier football is a non-starter for me. Aside from our attacking players I don’t feel like we have any truly natural ball-players. From the keeper up to the midfield I can’t think of a single player that could pick a great forward pass until we get to the likes of Grealish, McGinn and maybe Hourihane (on his good days!). It’s all well and good wanting Hollywood football but we don’t have the players capable of it IMO.

      • I was on the bus on the way back from Wembley and I suggested (pretty pissed I must admit) that we might need to go down again to really purge the crap from the club to rise again as per Southampton a few years ago and Villa in the late 70s. I don’t expect fans to be that patient but we need to be a bit more patient. I would back to the hilt Dean Smith, back to the core and give him 3 to 5 years to build from basics but who else would do that? 3 months in, blood on the street if we lose a few games.

        I don’t want to be a kill joy but have we totally forgotten FFP? I’m a big fan of B.B but a 5.5m euros bid for a 30 year old in a postition we are very well stocked should be bite your hand off time with the club as it is at the moment. We seem to be doing the same as last year, a punt on going up and if not then what? More solvent backers but that doesn’t help re FFP.

        I (obviously) really hope and am reasonably confident we may go up under Bruce as, even if a bit unbalanced, we have a very strong squad and very good youth coming through. But is it sustainable? How will we do if we are promoted (who cares maybe as cash injection allows us to …..) and what if not.

        I may be way too conservative but getting in a really good technical coach and accepting we sell out high earners (not Grealish or Chester, sorry I’m a massive hypocrite) and building properly with pati my in a 3 to 5 year time line is the right way to to go for me.

        How many would accept this though, truthfully? Don’t moan about Bruce if not unless you have a great but practical alternative

  • It’s all very well saying ” three wins out of three ” but JUST WHO HAVE WE PLAYED ? Any of the better teams would have done us . The old saying …… the best form of defence is attack , is very apt where Villa are concerned.we should be tearing this league apart ,beating teams with a margin of 2,3,even 4 goals difference, but as long as we keep playing with one up front (home & away ) I fear we may miss out again .
    Why is SB so insistant about playing 3 at the back ,every winning run we had last season was ended by reverting to this system .
    Why does he always find it necessary to play someone out of their favoured position ,square pegs in round holes. Eg Lansbury protecting the back line …… he didn’t score for Forest playing that deep.
    Why play full backs who overlap , get a decent winger in .
    Why cant we play with 2 strikers ? or 3 even .
    Running off the ball (we seem to think that it’s a STD at Villa Park )instead of this boring sideways or passing back
    But maybe these are for plan B or plan C , somehow I don’t think these even come to mind . COME ON STEVE …. PROVE ME WRONG !!!!

    • The sides in the fixture list Bob. It’s how football works, you beat whose in front of you. I am however fully on board with your final words!

  • Brentford next up at Villa Park. They’ve slaughtered us 4 times out of 4, but we managed two lucky draws at Villa Park. The tactical nous of Dean Smith versus the supposed better players of A Villa. Gulp …. as JF might say !

    As for Ipswich away, we need to improve, or for them to be as bad as Hull, or unlucky as Yeovil.

  • This article completely echo’s my thoughts over the last season and a half and I am in total agreement with everything said. I totally admire Bruce as a man but his assistant coaches seem to be experts at watching paint dry. I posted a reply earlier this week regarding Dean Smith, who most people said was a poor coach and not worthy of the position of AV coach. Well, agreeing with stennyvilla’s comments, regardless of the results, they played us off the park each time we hand played in the last two seasons.

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