Aston Villa wrapped up their travels for the season with a lacklustre 1-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon. The showing was certainly one of, if not the worst, of the entire season.
The performance aside, the actual result should not have been at all surprising. Villa’s away record is, quite frankly, abysmal. We have procured a grand total of just eighteen points on the road. Even more depressing is the fact that we managed to put the ball in the net just fourteen times in those twenty-three away games. Unsurprisingly, this makes us the lowest scorers away from home. Yes, even lower than Rotherham who were relegated way back on April 1st and didn’t win once away from home all season.
Our profligacy on our Championship road show has undoubtedly cost us a chance to be competing for a playoff position. I don’t see any one reason why our form has been quite so bad for such a sustained period throughout the season. Some supporters will point to Steve Bruce’s tactics and approach to games but even so, have we really been stifled by him to such an extent that we can only manage a total of fourteen goals? I do also think that there is a mentality issue and habits of not winning can be formed.
It’s clear that Bruce likes to set up with a safety first approach. And in some respects, the benefits of doing so are apparent. We have shipped just twenty-eight goals away from home. This is the fifth best record in the league. But it counts for nothing if we simply can’t attack and capitalise on that solid foundation. Bruce certainly has some work to do in finding a more productive balance.
After so many seasons having a poor home record, it has been nice to make Villa Park somewhat of a fortress again this year. Yet despite only losing three times (so far), we still actually only have the eighth best home record. Again, defensively we have been sound but the problem again is a lack of goals. We have drawn seven games at home, which on the face of it doesn’t sound bad but they are damaging. On occasion, a draw can be a good result however the teams in playoff positions will usually only draw two or three games at home a season. They may sacrifice losing four or five games instead by going for a win. It is those wins which propel them to a top six position.
There has, once again, been many concerns voiced over Bruce this weekend. The style of football has, understandably, been called into question. There are growing fears that on the evidence of this season, that we will not be gaining promotion next season.
I’m not Bruce’s biggest fan but I think replacing him would be a wrong move. We need stability. We have gone through too many managers in recent times and it hasn’t been the solution. Bruce has begun to assemble his own squad and will continue to do so over the summer.
There is enough to indicate that next season has every chance of being successful. A solid defence gives a good platform to build on. We have midfield options now, which until January was an area we were desperately lacking in. Henri Lansbury looks a great player with a real range of passing for us. I also believe that Conor Hourihane will rack up the assists with his sweet deliveries. We have a striker in Jonathan Kodjia who looks the business and who I am convinced will be with us still next season. In addition, I’m looking forwards to seeing Scott Hogan get fit and hopefully form a partnership with our main man Kodjia.
There are some key issues to be concluded. Most importantly, the goalkeeping situation must be sorted out as soon as possible. Sam Johnstone has done well after a shaky start and Bruce must either try to make the deal permanent or move swiftly to find a suitable replacement. One or two other additions will be needed but the major surgery we have seen in recent times will thankfully be avoided.
We have had major instability in a season in which the ship was meant to be steadied. We have sacked a manager after ten games; the Roberto Di Matteo reign has undoubtedly played a part in our overall position.
Silly mistakes on the pitch, particularly at the start of the season have cost us. We have rebuilt the squad both last summer and again in January. We have had off the field issues with players such as Ross McCormack. We have had flops in key positions on the pitch such as Pierluigi Gollini come and go and we also lost Kodjia to the African Cup of Nations for several games. All of these things will have contributed to a season which has ultimately been average. There is no reason why any of these things will occur next year.
I also think that we have suffered in general from having a mid-table malaise attitude. A mentality issue of floating around in relative obscurity all season will not have helped. We’ve never truly been in danger of being relegated and when there was a slim possibility of being dragged in, we responded.
Similarly, we have never really been on the coat tails of the top six either. Our stuttering start left us unable to close a gap that was always out of reach for a club that still had so many issues to sort out. We were never close enough to believe it could still happen. Some of our poorest defeats of the season in games such as Preston, Cardiff, and even this weekend to Blackburn simply didn’t have enough riding on them for us. We’ve had too many off days where the consequences haven’t mattered enough. That is something we need to ensure doesn’t happen next season
To get rid of Bruce now and have to go through everything that bringing in a new manager entails is the worst thing we could do. Another squad overhaul. Another time period of players getting used to a new manager and new systems. It isn’t the right move for the club.
Bruce certainly has some work to do, and he absolutely must learn to employ a more attacking mindset. At this moment, I can see the reasons why this season has been underwhelming and it isn’t all down to Steve Bruce.
Stability will see a progression for the team. There are no reasons why our home form should deteriorate next year. The real key will be improving the away form sufficiently to mount a promotion push. It is imperative that we come out of the blocks next year. It may seem like an impossibility to try to garner upwards of thirty points or so on the road after our away form has been so poor this season but I believe we are well placed to improve next season.
We have the players to do so and you may not like his style of play, but with four previous promotions under his belt, we know we have a manager who is able to do so.