Aston Villa’s rampant run of goal scoring form continued at the weekend with a curiously comfortable 3-0 victory against a notoriously miserly Middlesbrough outfit. Villa dominated the game pretty much from start to finish. It was the type of performance which is beginning to become commonplace. Dean Smith’s arrival is, of course, the catalyst for this marked improvement. But let’s be very clear; this is much more than just a new manager bounce.
In just a couple of months, Smith has completely transformed Villa. We used to be a persistently frustrating mob of individuals and have become an extremely lethal attacking machine. It isn’t just a case of the players being de-motivated by a previous regime and suddenly responding to a new establishment. The work behind this revolution has been progressively clear to see.
The very start
Right from the very start, it was obvious that Smith had implemented a certain way of playing. Pressing the ball from the front and playing a possession-based game initially caused some problems. The players weren’t fit enough. And we can still see that some of them are still adapting to playing the ball out instead of going long every single time.
But there was a very apparent plan of action. The game against Q.P.R at Loftus Road back in October was the point for me where it became evident that there was a structure in place and it was coming together. The match ended in a 1-0 defeat but there were no grumbles from supporters. The performance was good and there was a display of the fledging characteristics that Smith had been working on.
Under Steve Bruce, this team always seemed like they were wading through mud. Despite persuading a group of talented payers to join the club, our ex-manager had little inclination to allow them to express themselves or utilise their strengths. Why that was the case will remain one of football’s biggest mysteries. It’s like buying a Ferrari and only ever using it in 20 miles per hour zones.
Job too big for the manager?
I have to admit I wasn’t completely sold on Smith before his appointment. I felt that the job may be too big. And perhaps mostly, I just didn’t agree that simply being a Villa fan was a good enough reason to want someone to have the job.
But my word, he is proving me wrong big time. Whether he knows he is the antithesis to everything that the fans were irritated with about Bruce or not, I don’t know. The way he speaks is absolutely mesmerising and not just full of clichés and soundbites which is incredibly important to the supporters right now.
Smith explains his tactics and makes no bones about how he wants us to play. That communication creates a real bond with supporters. All we want is that transparency. To know what the plan is. What we’re trying to achieve. And when he talks about laying traps for the opposition, there is a real sense that the guy is looking at football on a different level to most of his peers.
Hearing him state that he wants us to score as many goals as possible in a game is an absolute dream. It felt like we were beaten down so much by Bruce and his cronies for having those expectations. Like we were being unreasonable for wanting what we all knew we were capable of.
It’s been an awakening. The difference between the two men is oceans apart. Smith is motivated, confident in his ability and driven to succeed. Perhaps it’s easy to be that way in a new position and certainly when things are going well. Bruce may have been worn down by a couple of years in the job. That can be no excuse for becoming as spiritless as he did. A good manager will keep his enthusiasm, for the sake of motivating players if nothing else.
Most of all there can be no excuses for peddling mediocrity on such a consistent basis. The ‘there or thereabouts’ line became almost like a catchphrase. There was never the drive or desire to ensure that he’d get the team to the top. Bruce intentionally tried to lower expectations week in, week out as a mechanism to cover up his managerial limitations.
Only today Smith has spoken about enjoying the recent performances and seeing results as a bonus. The ideology is that focusing on delivering good performances will ultimately bring good results. It’s such a forward-thinking philosophy.
Granted, when Bruce took over we were in a mess and results were all that mattered for a time. And yes, he steadied the ship. But once we were sailing in calmer waters, he just never evolved from that way of thinking and continued to focus on grinding out a result. It’s the exact opposite of Smith’s way of thinking.
The critics who lambasted the supporters for forcing Bruce out of the club have hopefully had their eyes opened to why Bruce had to go. Chris Kirkland’s embarrassing tweet stating the owners of the club we’re ‘clowns’ for sacking his former manager was indicative of the outsiders’ viewpoint. The support for Bruce despite his failings was truly amazing.
Steve bruce getting sacked @AVFCOfficial is an absolute joke,1 of the best managers I’ve worked under,just goes to show the clowns that run some clubs havnt got a clue !!!
— Chris Kirkland (@ChrisKirkland43) October 3, 2018
This outstanding run of form hasn’t happened simply due to a change in personnel. After all, we’ve had plenty of new managers over the years and rarely, if at all, have they made much of an impact from the off (or at any other time). Indeed, Smith was the first man to win his opening game as a Villa manager since Gerard Houllier back in 2010.
Smith has changed the whole ethos. He knew what he wanted and he’s delivering it big time. And finally, after so many years of drudgery and turmoil, it feels giddying to finally watch such an exciting and dominating Villa side.
It’s incredibly early in Smith’s reign, and there will be rougher times to come. How he’ll deal with things at that point will be the true test of his managerial ability. For now, though, he’s making a difference through intelligent tactics, hard work and showing that it doesn’t take an infinite amount of time to get good players playing good football. Long may it continue.