This article was initially going to praise Steve Bruce, following my criticism of his tactics in my last article. I was pleasantly surprised by our first-half performance against Preston. It seemed from the stands that Jonathan Kodjia had initially begun the game on the right of a midfield such was his position, however as the game progressed and Villa took control of the game this changed.
Kodjia began drifting finding space all over the pitch and linking well with Tammy Abraham and Jack Grealish. Starting from a position on the right he was allowed to cut inside. It appeared as though this was always the plan with Conor Hourihane drifting to the right-hand side of midfield and Ahmed Elmohammady playing higher than the other defenders almost in a wing back position.
It was this positional play that brought about the first goal. A deep cross from Elmohammady to find Kodjia at the back post, where he would always be favourite to win the ball. Kodjia beat his man to head an easy finish across goal. 1-0 as a result of a clear tactical ploy. 2-0 quickly followed and we were coasting. Even the decision to play third choice goalkeeper Mark Bunn appeared to be a decent one. And then…
The game turns.
Jame Chester was given his marching orders. Bruce decides to take Abraham off and turn to long ball football. To a striker (Kodjia) who doesn’t seem to want to chase the ball and prefers the ball to feet. It was clear to see the game was only going one way.
Villa struggled massively in the air as the away side continued to win headers in the box. Preston turned the game on its head before a late goal from Yanik Bolasie saves Bruce’s blushes. Villa were awarded a late penalty but substitute Glenn Whelan missed from the spot. How very Villa.
If you look at the big picture I think most would agree it was time for Bruce and Aston Villa to go their separate ways. However, I feel that Bruce may count himself unlucky after what unfolded in the second half against Preston.
What if Chester didn’t make that silly challenge, Bunn prevents the goal from that attack and it remains 2-0. What if someone else stepped up and we converted the penalty? Had the game finished as it looked it would it would have been near impossible to sack Bruce. A win at Millwall on Saturday would’ve seen us ‘there or thereabouts’.
It is not without thanks that Bruce leaves, he stabilised the club in his first year and last season reminded us of how it can feel to be a Villa fan. Ultimately though he fell short and he will know that more than most. Who knows what the future holds, Carlos Carvalhal anyone?