“You need people who score goals. That’s how you win games”. One of many incredible observations made by the former England international turned pundit, Michael Owen.
However, if this staggering quote had been made after watching some of Aston Villa’s recent performances, you could forgive a man for making such an obvious statement.
In fact Michael may be required to dust his boots off and come out of retirement if things get much worse on the attacking front in the coming weeks.
Without stating the obvious phrase of ‘promotion is a must’ the root causes of recent performances need to be addressed urgently as the same mistakes are being made all too often. Simple decision making, lack of attacking intent and the ability to string a set of passes together are all currently absent from the full 90 minutes week in week out.
At the start of the season Keith Wyness mentioned a target of 80+ goals this season. Granted there have been injuries, most notably that of Jonathan Kodjia, but again the attacking players at Steve Bruce’s disposal should be able to create more chances and have more efforts on goal.
32 goals in 24 games highlights how far behind we are that specific target.
The issue is that the philosophy of our football is preventing us from putting games to bed and in some cases getting a real leading foothold in some games.
The midfield appears to have little to no freedom in attacking and getting at defenders. Players such as Conor Hourihane known for long range efforts and delivery at Barnsley look shot shy. His last goal coming from a free kick back in September at home to Nottingham Forest.
Albert Adomah has been relied on heavily. When nullified, it doesn’t look like there is an alternative idea as to how to win a game. Thankfully, Adomah has provided goals regularly, including two games where he has scored both goals to win a game.
I was listening to Newcastle fans the other night after their 1-0 home defeat to Manchester City. On the face of it, they ran the Premier League champions to-be closer than most this season. The fact is they sat back and tried to avoid a heavy defeat.
One fan pointed out that Manchester City are pretty much guaranteed to score at least one goal per game. Therefore you need to be looking to attack and score yourself just to gain a minimum of a point.
I feel like that’s the same with ourselves. The defence has been all over the place at times, particularly without John Terry. So rather than attempting to keep things tight, the freedom to attack and score goals can be used to overcome defensive frailties.
There are more than enough players in the squad to play attacking football, but the cautious approach of Bruce has ultimately cost us in a lot of games as was the case last season.
This isn’t a call to sack him as I’ll be completely honest, it’s reached the point where I genuinely don’t know what is best any more. I’ve read and listened to hundreds of views ranging from he needs to be given time to he should’ve gone weeks ago. I am however fed up of the phrase, “most qualified to get us up”.
Granted, Bruce has an impressive number of promotions from this level, but I feel his style of management is becoming outdated and he’s being found out.
Five of the current top six are led by managers 50 years old or younger. Lee Johnson, the youngest at only 36 has Bristol City playing attacking, passing football and this whilst also leading the team to a League Cup Semi-Final following their recent win over a Manchester United side containing some of the world’s most expensive players.
Chris Wilder has brought Sheffield United back to the Championship at his first attempt and although they have currently lost 3 more games than Aston Villa, the play to win philosophy has seen them pick up 13 wins, scoring 39 goals in the process and they are 3 points better off. Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp have been scoring regularly, both signed for undisclosed values reported to be under £2m combined.
I’ve read a lot of people dismissing Leon Clarke amongst others when the striker crisis has been brought up but it proves, attacking football and consistent provision will result in goals. In fact Clarke has scored 14 Championship goals. Take out Adomah’s goals for Villa and the rest of the squad have managed just 18 between them. Speaks volumes.
Dean Smith showed us how to set a team up to run at defenders and bear down on goal. Defensively not the best of teams, having conceded 32 goals (8 more than ourselves) Brentford have scored 37 and this on a shoestring budget. This whilst having the majority of the first team players (recognised at the time as their best players) sold.
Scott Hogan, Jota and others departing for pastures new leaving more rebuilds on the cheap, yet Smith has them playing attractive, yet relatively simple football and has them in 12th and just 4 points behind ourselves. The squad is made up of players signed on the cheap and many from lower leagues. Ryan Woods stood out again against us, leading by example and orchestrating the midfield with freedom and determination. Himself, signed for £1.2mil from Shrewsbury.
Sean Dyche (Burnley), David Wagner (Huddersfield), Aitor Karanka (Middlesbrough), Eddie Howe (Bournemouth), Slavisa Jokanovic and Alex Neil again all under 50 and have seen their sides promoted in the last three years.
We can repeaedly lament injuries, but the fact is there has to be more coming out of the current players.
The transfer fees paid and the wages paid are vastly higher than at other clubs. Bruce needs to be taking a tougher stance. Maybe even changing his philosophy and outlook in the process.
I’m one of those that desperately wants Bruce to be successful, I have backed him but this was a defining month for most. Also our record against the current top six is abysmal. 3 points from 6 games says it all.
This may be just a bad spell, but how long does a bad spell last before the goal you’ve earmarked as a must, becomes all too distant?