Aston Villa’s Championship campaign finally achieved lift off with an uncharacteristically high scoring 4-2 victory over Norwich City at the weekend. Steve Bruce alleviated a bit of pressure on himself, whilst supporters could finally bask in the warm glow of a triumph at long last. Without wanting to put too much of a dampener on things, the win strangely seemed to raise several questions and talking points rather than giving a sense that a corner had truly been turned and it is likely that we’ll only find out the answers to these in the coming weeks.

The feeling of actually wanting to tune in on Saturday evening to the Football on 5 programme and relive it all over again is something that we don’t get to experience very often.

The display was full of positives, from Keinan Davis shining on his full debut to Andre Green’s pearler of a first senior goal to Conor Hourihane’s magnificent hat-trick.

Does Davis answer many of our questions?Davis looked excellent. He bullied Norwich’s German centre back pairing and they simply couldn’t handle him. He showed exceptional strength for a youngster and really looked the part of a bustling centre-forward. His effort which cracked off the crossbar was superb; the innovation and confidence to take the shot on were something that our strikers, with the exception of Jonathan Kodjia, seem to lack all too often. He ran the channels also and this lead to his cross for Hourihane’s opening goal.

We’d seen a glimpse of Davis in the final game of last season at home to Brighton when he came on as a substitute for the injured Scott Hogan. On that day, he also earned rave reviews and impressed. With the likes of Hogan and Agbonlahor struggling for goals on a regular basis, it brings me to my first of a few questions, does Davis’s performance warrant him keeping his place?

Over Agbonlahor, certainly. For me, our longest-serving player should now be no more than an impact sub, despite a couple of improved appearances so far. As for Hogan, I’m not sure Davis overtakes him just yet. I think the ex-Brentford man has been unlucky is not getting his goals and I think his performances have been ok. I’d be surprised if Bruce loses faith in a £9million signing after one good appearance from a nineteen-year-old but Davis should definitely be hot on his heels if the goal drought continues. Hopefully, this new-found competition sharpens Hogan’s finishing up a tad.

Is it time to move Hutton on?Another issue is the ongoing Alan Hutton debate. Although the Scot is still starting games, Saturday certainly felt like a possible turning point and could finally signal the end of his reign at right back. James Bree’s introduction just after the hour mark came at a crucial point in the game. With the Canaries just getting themselves back into things at 2-1, Hutton was not only woefully out of position for Josh Murphy’s goal, but also being tormented down that flank in general. Clearly identified as a way back into the game by Norwich, Hutton was hooked off. Bree looked more assured and also added to our attacking threat.

To Bruce’s credit, he responded to the situation accordingly. With this being far from the first time Hutton’s positioning has been the cause for us conceding goals, surely now is the time he is removed from starting games. Especially with capable players such as Bree and De Laet able to step in.

I’ve got a lot of respect for Hutton. The way the club treated him as part of the infamous bomb squad was nothing short of a disgrace. The way he has always been committed even still is hugely admirable. Perhaps over the last couple of seasons, that passion and determination were enough for supporters due to the lack of quality in the team. If we now wish to push on, that sentiment can’t be the only thing that keeps him as the first choice. The talent has to be there also. This game could, and should, be the turning point that sees Bree come into the side on a regular basis and this is another one of my questions – Is it time to cash in and move Hutton on?

For me, the biggest highlight of the game was Hourihane’s hat trick. Not since David Platt back in 1991 had a Villa midfielder bagged himself the match ball. When the Irishman signed for us back in January, I felt genuinely excited that we were making moves to sign a young, invigorating player who had shown an eye for goal as well as grabbing plenty of assists. Having watched him playing for Barnsley a few times, I’d always been impressed with his energy and it was great that we were being proactive in signing such a player for a change.

Having to then watch Hourihane being shackled by Bruce’s formations and tactics was like buying Buggati Veyron and taking it for a spin in a 30 mile per hour zone. If it was disheartening for us, imagine how Hourihane must’ve felt himself. I found it unbelievable that some fans were starting to turn on him. Bruce had the audacity to cite a lack of confidence in the player as an explanation for some below-par performances which I find incredible. Surely the confidence comes from being played in his best position and not having the likes of Leandro Bacuna starting ahead of him.

Is Hogan still ahead of Davis?Either way, finally on Saturday we saw exactly what he is capable of. Not just the goals but his dynamism was exceptional. His first goal may have been a tap in, however, it was good to see him busting a gut to make the run into the box and get himself into position for Davis’ cross was so encouraging. The guy has an absolute wand of a left foot and his finishes were exceptional. Of course, they aren’t going to fly in every time, but he was always capable of getting into double figures for us this season. He’s now already on four goals and surely Bruce must now continue to play him in that advanced position with the licence to get into the box as often as possible.

Perhaps overall, one of the main questions I have is whether Bruce simply stumbled upon a winning formula against Norwich? For example, would Davis had started if both Agbonlahor and Hogan were fully fit? There are debates over whether Josh Onomah’s early withdrawal through injury then allowed Hourihane the stage to be able to get forward and produce his incredible display.

I think the answer is perhaps a bit of both. Bruce’s hand was forced to an extent. Certainly with the inclusion of Davis. If both Agbonlahor or Hogan were fully fit, Davis may not have even been on the bench.

As for Hourihane, he seemed to be making advanced runs before Onomah’s departure, as evidenced by his lung busting run to get into position for his first goal when the Spurs loanee was still on the pitch.

I’ve also already outlined how Bruce saw the danger in keeping the exposed Hutton on the pitch and made a swift change, to his credit.

Bruce needs to stop the questions from coming.Even if Bruce had got lucky with some of the factors in this game, the real question is whether he learns anything from those in particular. The worry is of course that we revert back to the drab and uninspiring ways we have sadly become accustomed to. If so, it surely will not be tolerated now that we have seen just how the team can play with some adjustments.

Bruce was certainly beginning to wheel out a few excuses before the Norwich game which for me shows that he was feeling the pressure and it gives fans more questions. Yet, through a combination of luck and his own insight, he has found a degree of success and would be foolish not to recognise the factors that saw a much improved attacking display.

Everyone is now waiting to see if this is the start of something bigger or yet another false dawn. One thing is for certain, we now know for certain we have the players to get out of this league so let’s hope our questions are answered in order to find a consistent winning formula.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Fingers crossed a hs been crossed in terms of confidence, tactics and momentum. Bruce wouldn’t be the first manager who stumbled upon a winning formation after struggling, even Fergie did that, as you say all we can do is hope he’s learned something.

  2. We won’t know until Friday night away to Bristol whether Bruce is learning from his mistakes or not, also whether or not the players are finding the confidence to perform away from VP, this is the acid test.

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