Aston Villa’s resurgence since the appointment of Steve Bruce has taken a step backwards since the New Year, with a four-match winless run denting the club’s push for the play-offs.
The absence of Jonathan Kodjia and Jordan Ayew has left the Villans short of options on the front line. Gabriel Agbonlahor has been pressed into action, but has failed to score a league goal in over a year, while Ross McCormack’s off-the-field behaviour has rightfully drawn the ire of Bruce.
Rudy Gestede’s stay at Villa Park ended at eighteen months as the striker completed a £6 million move to Middlesbrough. The club attempted to lure Jordan Rhodes away from the Riverside, but officials were unable to secure a move for the Scotland international, leaving Bruce to look elsewhere for striking reinforcements.
On the bright side, Birkir Bjarnson has been signed, James Bree’s move has been completed and a deal for his team-mate Hourihane looks to be over the line. However, without a complement for Kodjia when he returns, Villa’s bid to return to the Premier League looks as though it could fall short this term.
In the latest Championship betting odds, the Midlands outfit is backed at 20/1 to make a late surge for promotion, likely through the play-offs, despite being nine points adrift after twenty-seven matches.
One player Bruce could move for that he has a level of familiarity with is Chuba Akpom, who played for the fifty-six-year-old last season in Hull City’s successful rise back to the top flight. The Arsenal forward has struggled with a back injury this term and has been limited to just one appearance in the Gunners’ defeat to Southampton in the EFL Cup.
Akpom only found the net three times for the Tigers in the last campaign in thirty-six appearances, but his pace and ability could offer more than Agbonlahor in the final third. He has a great deal of potential, although he would need to work on his finishing in and around the box to support Kodjia and fire the Villans towards the top six.
Bruce also eyed moves for Scott Hogan and Ashley Barnes but neither deal looks likely to materialise. However, Villa could make an attempt to sign an old transfer target in the form of Will Grigg from Wigan Athletic, who rose to notoriety after being the subject of a very catchy chant from Latics’ faithful.
The Northern Ireland international was the driving force behind Wigan Athletic’s promotion from League One last season with twenty-five goals. He has found life tougher in the second tier this season with only five strikes to his name but with players such as Albert Adomah, Henri Lansbury and perhaps Hourihane providing ammunition he might be able to return to top form.
The difference between the three teams at the top of the Championship and the others battling for promotion has been the goals of their strikers.
Dwight Gayle’s twenty strikes for Newcastle United have propelled the Magpies to top spot, while Glenn Murray and Chris Wood at Brighton and Hove Albion and Leeds United respectively have had a similar effect.
Bruce faces an important decision early into his reign at the club and making the right one could have the Midlands outfit back in the Premier League sooner than expected following the disastrous start to the season under Roberto Di Matteo.