Aston Villa ensured they entered the upcoming international break in good shape with a 1-0 victory over league strugglers Bolton Wanderers at the weekend. The success was less than convincing but did represent a fourth straight victory. However, with practically a quarter of the season already now done and dusted I thought I would review what how we have done so far.
There is no doubt that manager Steve Bruce saved his own bacon with the recent run of wins. In fact, the season so far can be defined with a pretty clear beginning, middle and an end.
A very slow start saw just one victory in the first five games, as well as the abject defeat at Cardiff City and the lacklustre showing at Reading.
A 4-2 triumph over Norwich City seemed to herald a turned corner. However, three stagnating draws immediately followed and after the 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough, myself and many others finally lost patience with a distinct lack of progress under Bruce and saw no future under the former Hull manager with bookies taking bets on his departure with better offers if you had a Ladbrokes promo code 2017.
Yet those four straight wins have forced a backtrack, however temporary that may be and Bruce has certainly solidified his position. I have to say that I am absolutely delighted to be proven wrong.
Personally, though, I’m reserving judgment for a little longer until the Championship resumes – maybe on the half season review, things may not look so rosy?
We have seen these mini-surges of form previously. We have had several false dawns during Bruce’s tenure already. The key will be to sustain it and see whether we are capable of building up the momentum again.
September had been earmarked as a key month for Villa and so it turned out to be. The six games played all looked fairly straightforward on paper, perhaps with the exception of Middlesbrough.
A tougher set of fixtures greets us upon the return in a fortnights time, kicking off with a tricky trip to high-flying Wolves. This is followed by a visit to Villa Park of an improving Fulham side and then the big derby with Birmingham City. Despite their current woes, it is unlikely a game of such magnitude will be a cakewalk.
For me, those are the games that Bruce will really earn his stripes in, rather than home games against whipping boys Bolton and visits to fellow strugglers Barnsley and Burton.
That said, those teams still needed to be dispatched and other than falling over the line against Bolton, the manner of the victories over the aforementioned Barnsley and Burton were incredibly pleasing.
Maybe Bruce did his own review and realised his tactics weren’t working so decided to switch to a settled 4-4-2 formation, coupled with finally using an established starting eleven has given a stability that we haven’t seen in Bruce’s reign up until this point.
We suddenly look very good all the way through the team. Sam Johnstone has looked extremely assured between the sticks, whilst John Terry, after a less than convincing start now looks a cut above and is working well with the ever reliable James Chester.
The midfield is creating chances and scoring goals. In particular, Conor Hourihane and Albert Adomah have made the headlines, but Robert Snodgrass is also beginning to demonstrate that he is too good for this level with always improving performances.
Keinan Davis has cemented himself a starting place and grabbed himself a couple of goals, whilst the return of Jonathan Kodjia from injury has been a welcome sight. Scott Hogan, although still going through his barren run has also contributed with his physical play and intelligent runs when called upon.
We can currently boast the sixth best attack and fourth best defence in the division. Half of our goals conceded came in the two losses we suffered at Cardiff and Reading.
It’s the goals being scored that is the really pleasing aspect though. Our defence was already pretty tight from last year. It was our profligacy in attack that held us back so badly back then and seemed to be doing so again this season. The midfield contribution in that regard this season is especially encouraging.
All in all, we end the first quarter in a good position. Nineteen points amassed in eleven games isn’t far off the yardstick of two points per game often cited for teams looking to bag promotion. It sees us currently occupying the seventh position, just one place off the playoffs. Although it’s not quite automatic promotion, it does make this review easier to write with the fact we are just four points off the pace.
There are suddenly a lot of positives and it is absolutely vital that we pick up where we left off again on the 14th October when the season resumes.
International injuries are a concern, as is a loss of momentum but you feel that Bruce has finally cottoned on to what was obvious for so long; that playing a settled side and formation should see us pick up the points we need. The players at our disposal are certainly good enough to see off any and all opponents at this level.
It’s a case of so far so good. I think all of us would’ve been ok with being within touching distance with a quarter of the season gone. The table at the top is pretty tight and the early pacesetters Cardiff, Wolves and Leeds have all faltered here and there suggesting that no one team is going to run away with it this season.
Having clawed ourselves into a decent position, the next step is to maintain, but hopefully improve upon it. As supporters, we’ll certainly be raring to go again after a long two weeks. Let’s hope the players are ready to go from the off also.