A vastly underwhelming start to the Championship season has seen Steve Bruce immediately facing a backlash from disgruntled supporters which was heightened with the shambolic 3-0 defeat to Cardiff City at the weekend and a statistic that shows that Villa is yet to win a league game without Mile Jedinak in 2017 doesn’t help matters.
Whether you think it’s time for Bruce to leave now or be given more time, one thing for sure is that the board are unlikely to make any knee-jerk reactions so soon into a new season.
However, the games come thick and fast in this league, and tonight’s match against Reading could edge Bruce one step closer to the exit.
At the very least a much-improved performance is required from the disaster in Wales on Saturday. However, perhaps even a display of scintillating football may not be enough to placate a fan base absolutely desperate for three points. In fact, the result is the only thing that matters right now.
If omens are anything to go by, Villa’s chances of taking a maximum haul away from the Madjeski Stadium already look doomed. A continuing absence in our midfield may be critical to the outcome of the game if stats are to believed. Take a bow, Jedinak.
Our Aussie talisman is still missing from action and that doesn’t bode well for us at all. Jedinak joined us from Crystal Palace late last August and as I mentioned earlier Villa hasn’t won a single Championship fixture in his absence.
It’s both a remarkable and worrying trend and with Jedinak still recovering from surgery for a persistent groin issue, it’s a hoodoo that Bruce will have to find a way of breaking if he wants to remain in the hot seat for much longer.
The fact that we seemingly rely on the thirty-three-year-old to such an extent is incredible for a number of reasons.
Firstly, for a defensive midfielder to have such an influence on whether we win games or not probably says more about the rest of the team than it does about Jedinak. We are clearly reliant on him to protect the defence, which is fine to an extent; that is his job but to falter so much in his absence is ridiculous. There must be reasons why Jedinak’s presence is so keenly felt?
On the face of it, Jedinak doesn’t do anything overly eye catching or spectacular, however, he is extremely effective in breaking up opposition play from his deep lying position and acts as a protective barrier to the defence.
At 6ft 2″ he is also combative in the air which is something we lack in the middle. We aren’t exactly blessed with height in the centre of the pitch or have anyone else who will challenge headers in the same way.
His work in keeping the opposition out is clear but for us to not be winning games in his absence really highlights deficiencies in the attack for me instead. We don’t create and score enough goals to be able to out score an opposition when needed and that isn’t down to Jedinak.
However, it does lead on to the absence of Jonathan Kodjia, who we are also over reliant on.
Kodjia’s nineteen goals last season saw him top our goalscoring charts by a clear fourteen goals from second placed Jack Grealish. Ross McCormack, for whatever reason, flopped massively and looks to be heading out of the exit door. Gabriel Agbonlahor is the flavour of the month again and has got himself off the mark for the season which is promising. Yet the hopes in Kodjia’s absence really fall on Scott Hogan.
With the Ivorian reportedly suffering a slight setback, it could be another month or so before we see him back in first team action and even then it is unlikely he will hit the ground running after such a serious injury.
Hogan has looked lively and just needs one of his efforts to creep in and I believe he’ll be a regular scorer for us.
Yet for me, Kodjia’s absence is just as important as Jedinak’s. The period last January where both players were missing was absolutely dreadful. It is a genuine concern that without Jedinak to help protect the defence and Kodjia to score the goals we struggle to such an extent.
So, what is the answer? In terms of Kodjia, as I’ve said, I don’t think Hogan is doing a bad job. He’s getting chances and hitting the target. I think he will score goals sooner rather than later if he continues to do what he’s been doing.
Jedinak’s solution is more tactical. Bruce favours a 4-3-3 when the ex-Crystal Palace man plays which allows him to sit at the base of a midfield trio with two players in front of him on either side.
Yet in his absence, Bruce will often play a 4-4-2 instead. I don’t think this formation has been particularly successful for us, even throughout pre-season. On paper, it should be fine, with two wide men and a central midfield pairing which could see Glenn Whelan sit back whilst either Conor Hourihane or Henri Lansbury push up.
It hasn’t transpired as such and some strange player selections including starting Leandro Bacuna against Hull City on an opening day have left a lot to be desired.
By all accounts, Jedinak could make his return to action next weekend against Norwich City and if this is the case, Bruce would need to revert to 4-3-3 at that point anyway to accommodate the Australia international. If he doesn’t, lessons from last season point to a continued lack of success.
Upon Jedinak’s arrival at Villa following his £4 million move, there were concerns that we had signed him a year or two too late thanks to some lacklustre performances. An upturn in displays from the Beard to be Feared coincided with a switch to 4-3-3.
I don’t believe that there is a curse on us without Jedinak playing. He certainly improves us, no doubt about that but I do think Kodjia being out at the same time is a factor also and the sooner we switch from 4-4-2, the better also.
I would certainly make the change for the game with Reading. Bruce needs to try something to get a result. It is interesting to note that in the same fixture last season a 4-3-3 was deployed and we grabbed our first away win for 437 days.
Of course, Jedinak was playing that day!
Bruce has pulled rabbits out of the hat when needed beforehand. Even at this early stage in the season, however, you feel that anything less than three points against the Royals will see him nudged just a little further towards an untimely exit from Villa Park.