Aston Villa kicked off a long and strenuous new Championship season at the weekend with a 1-1 draw with Steve Bruce’s former club, Hull City. Whilst it’s fair to say that nobody was over the moon with the result, the reaction since on social media has been pretty spectacular. Perhaps it was due to football being back after a summer break, but I can’t remember the last time a Villa game was dissected in a manner quite like this one.
Usually, the post match aftermath is pretty standard. If we’re rubbish, we know it and we like to have a moan about it, as we are entitled to. The usual negativity is to be expected; the players are garbage, Bruce is a potato head that knows nothing about football and needs to be sacked, and so on.
If we win, then we’re usually pretty happy. Promotion suddenly seems nailed on and Bruce may still be a potato head, but he’s our potato head.
Of course, the doom merchants will always be out in some capacity come rain or shine, but Saturday’s reaction felt incredibly intense. It seems as if every minute detail has been pawed over with the intention of finding a scapegoat and pinpointing the downfall of the result and the performance. Tactics and positioning have been well and truly over analysed. Judgements about who was at fault for Hull’s equaliser turned ugly.
For me, it’s a pretty simple and stress-free outlook on Saturday’s game. Overall, there seems no need to panic, certainly not at this point. We played well for most of the game and missed some excellent chances. Hull had a period of domination after half time in which they scored. After that, we took control back of the game.
If Agbonlahor could finish a one-on-one, If Andre Green didn’t have a 50p head moment, if Scott Hogan had any sort of luck with his chances, we’d have won. In short, the opportunities were there. Bruce’s tactics were fine. When Hull came out in the second half, we made changes that saw us back on top for the last twenty-five minutes.
Of course, it was hard not to feel like we had experienced the same old story from last season. A great first half, taking in a lead into the break and being unable to build on it and eventually throwing points away. That is a concern, but I think the performance showed enough promise that on another day, we will win games like this. That may be blind faith, but until I see more worrying signs within the game itself, I’m happy to judge things in a positive light.
The need for a large section of the support to find a scapegoat and to completely over analyse the game, and Villa’s situation in general, is systematic of a wider problem. There is a huge pressure on the club this season. It literally is all or nothing. If we don’t achieve promotion, then we’re in big trouble. This is undoubtedly what is causing such extreme and panicked responses from supporters.
Financially, we could be in real trouble. We’re already operating on a sell-to-buy basis, and that will only get worse if we stay in this division. We are already perilously close to breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, and fines, transfer embargos and point deductions are a looming possibility.
Similarly, we could end up losing our better players if we remain at this level for a third season. The likes of Jonathan Kodjia and James Chester could easily be head-hunted by the teams relegated from the Premier League next year. With the financial power, those clubs will have earned over the last year or two, they will likely be seen to be in a better position to obtain promotion than ourselves.
Amongst the optimism of a new season, there is a nervousness and a panic that is surrounding the club and it isn’t helping. The real problem is the negativity which this panic manifests itself as. Leandro Bacuna being heckled off when being substituted is an excellent example. There is no benefit of such a reaction. I’m not Bacuna’s biggest fan. In fact, only last week I wrote about how we should’ve accepted Reading’s offer and allowed him to leave. I’m sorry if I offend anyone here who did so, but jeering him off the pitch is absolutely moronic. Ok, he didn’t have a great game but what exactly did he do to justify that reaction?
The mentality amongst a large part of supporters seems to be that this was a must-win game. It wasn’t. Kicking off with a win would’ve been fantastic, of course, and getting wins at home is obviously crucial but this hasn’t derailed us. There were plenty of positives to focus on. Of course, we still have the small matter of forty-five games left.
Granted, there are still questions to be asked. I don’t think Bacuna should be starting games. I’d also like to know exactly what is going on with Conor Hourihane and the Alan Hutton debate will rumble on and on for as long as he continues to start games.
But in the grand scheme of the things these are small problems compared to what most of our rivals have to worry about. We have, in my opinion, the best squad in the league. The centre back pairing of John Terry and James Chester is Premier League standard and will shut out most teams this season. Sam Johnstone seemed to pick up where he left off last season to further solidify the defence.
We have a midfield that combines Premier League and international experience with the some of the best Championship talent available. We haven’t found the right formula with those players yet, but the quality is present which is a good place to start at least.
We have a proven goal scorer returning in a few weeks in the shape of Kodjia. In the meantime, Hogan looks lively and determined to grab some goals, and even Agbonlahor looks much more capable than he has done in years.
With the exception of one or two players here and there, most supporters can accept that we have a good enough squad to get out of this league. This brings us on to the most divisive factor surrounding the club right now; are you Bruce in or Bruce out?
At the moment, the question shouldn’t even be asked. Along with the panic and expectations for this season, this is the root of much of the pessimism currently seeping out of many supporters. Bruce’s football isn’t exciting. Many see him as a dinosaur of football. Unbelievably, some are still bothered that he once managed Birmingham City.
Whatever the reasons, I find it difficult to stomach supporters constantly banging the anti-Bruce drum. Especially doing so after Saturday. I’m not a huge fan of Bruce. I’m not keen on the style of play or some player selections but we have a man in charge who has climbed out of this division four times previously. It’s fair to say he probably has a decent idea of what needs to be done and after one game, for the Bruce out comments to flare up to such an extent is beyond belief.
Surely let’s give it six or seven games to see where we are. If the pattern of throwing points away continues over the coming weeks, or if we continue to miss chances to win games, then concerns over Bruce will be much more palatable. Right now, it’s purely detrimental and creates a bad atmosphere.
There are incredibly unrealistic expectations now even within each game we play. If the opposing team has a period on top, then Bruce’s tactics are to blame and it’s all his fault if we don’t win. Please, can anybody tell me a team that completely dominates for 90 minutes and wins every single game?
Tactics were not to blame for Saturday’s result. We created several golden opportunities throughout the game. On another day, we score three or four goals with that performance and those chances.
Next weekend’s game at Cardiff City now already carries huge expectation and typifies the huge pressure that engulfs the whole club. Anything less than three points will undoubtedly see the panic of missing out on promotion ratcheted up a few notches and more pressure on Bruce and his players.
It’s a real shame to think that a section of the fanbase could be playing a very real part in unnecessarily creating an atmosphere of dread and fear for our players to come out to. Knowing that a few poor passes in a game could get them jeered off the pitch. Or going in at half time still locked at 0-0 could set off the boos.
There will be times when things don’t go our way this season. We won’t win some games where we dominate. On the other hand, I’m sure there’ll be times where we’ll sneak three points with below par performances. Unless we’re losing and drawing game after game then we can’t allow a disappointing result here and there to manifest itself in the meltdown that it has done this past weekend.
We certainly can’t make a habit of turning on the players and manager every single time there is a bad result. It will happen and we must move on when it does.
Perhaps crucially, the sooner the ‘Bruce Out’ brigade accept that he is our manager the better. Unless we have a disastrous start to the season, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. You don’t have to like him, but you may as well get on board for now.
Over such a long season, the fans have a huge part to play; it really could be the quality of the support that helps to propel us over the line when needed.