The term “Championship expert” accompanies Steve Bruce in every anecdote, as if it were his job title. The new Aston Villa boss has certainly earned this tag after masterminding promotion to the Premier League with both Birmingham City and Hull City. Taking on a Villa side languishing in 18th place in the table, posting only two wins from 12 outings, the former England candidate has a mammoth task on his hands to replicate the success he achieved just three miles down the road at St Andrews. With summer spending just shy of a staggering £50 million and an ambitious (borderline unrealistic) new owner, what must be fixed in order to save this season?
“It has been bleak for a long time for the fans who are not used to seeing their team play at this level. There is a big expectation and you have to go and perform, but we will get there.” Bruce told Sky Sports after a disappointing home draw with Wolves. Remarkably, after just four wins in the last 55 games, expectations are still high at Villa Park which hasn’t been helped with owner Tony Xia boldly claiming the club will be a Champions League side within 5 years (honestly).
The pressure for success surrounding the club is directly affecting performances according to the new gaffer who also told Sky Sports “There are some decent players who are finding it difficult with the weight of expectation. I can understand why they have conceded goals, it is difficult in this league.”
In the last 28 years, only 23.5% of teams relegated from England’s top division have successfully returned the following season, meaning Villa fans hoping for a revolution under Steve Bruce may have to be more patient. Perhaps setting realistic targets of rebuilding and consolidating after a disastrous 2015-2016 campaign may help lift the cloud above the famous Holte End.
On the pitch, only Derby (7), Ipswich (8) and Cardiff (10) have scored fewer goals than Villa (11) this season which is a frightening statistic as over £23 million was spent this summer on goal scoring options alone. Ross McCormack and Jonathan Kodja managed 41 Championship goals between them last season but both have struggled to get going this year, only managing two goals each. If the Villains are to mix it with Europe’s elite in the near future, Brucey will need his star strikers in amongst the goals to propel them up the league.
Perhaps more alarmingly than the lack of goals, Aston Villa have thrown away 13 points from winning positions which, had they kept, would put them 4th in the league just two points off top and perhaps kept Roberto Di Matteo in the job. This summer saw Premier League winner Ritchie De Laet, Wales Euro 2016 star James Chester and experienced Championship leader Tommy Elphick all join the defensive ranks in attempt to lay solid foundations for the new campaign. Despite this, the back line appear to be struggling with the physicality and pace of the division which was evident with Wolverhampton Wanderers duo Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Helder Costa causing the back four constant problems during the recent home draw. Bruce should relish the chance of working his magic with defence having forged an illustrious career as a powerful, combative centre-back during a trophy laden spell under Sir Alex Ferguson.
So to save the season and keep both the fans and owner happy, Bruce needs to get his scorers scoring, defenders defending and inject a winning mentality among a frail side lacking confidence. Shouldn’t be a problem for a “Championship Expert”.