Demoralised by underwhelming displays, Aston Villa supporters have had little to cheer so far this season.
High-profile signings arrived at Villa Park after a takeover provided Steve Bruce with a cash injection, but last season’s play-off finalists are currently languishing in mid-table obscurity.
This has caused pressure to mount on Bruce, who has been slammed for his failure to propel Villa into the promotion picture in the early stages of the season.
The Midlands club have an enviable fan base and were tipped to succeed, so which mistakes caused such a slow start to the campaign?
Pursuing John Terry
Villa drafted in nine new recruits during the summer, but their business was overshadowed by intense speculation regarding the futures of Jack Grealish and John Terry. The latter captained the Villains last season, proving to be crucial as the club reached the play-off final. However, a new deal failed to materialise when his contract expired and he left the club in May 2018. Losing a key player in May rarely spells damaging trouble for a club as there is ample time to find a replacement, but Villa couldn’t move on. Instead of turning their attention to alternatives, they pursued Terry relentlessly before conceding that he would prove too costly. Reports have suggested that Villa are now targeting Terry’s former Chelsea teammate Gary Cahill, whilst former Liverpool loanee Steven Caulker has also been linked with a move to the Midlands. Ultimately, Bruce has failed to replace Terry and the hole in the backline has forced him to deploy midfielder Mile Jedinak as a makeshift central defender.
Lack of faith in youngsters
The summer exodus at Villa Park saw a number of veterans depart. When the likes of Terry, Christopher Samba and Gabriel Agbonlahor left, it seemed natural that the most esteemed talents in the club’s academy would make the transition into the first-team. In the unforgiving Championship, it is rare to see raw 17-year-olds handed opportunities but several players seemed ready for first-team action. England under-20 international Andre Green had already tasted first-team football in England’s top two tiers, whereas defender Easah Suliman has impressed alongside Green in the Three Lions youth set-up. Tenacious midfielder Jordan Lyden turned 22 in January 2018, but was shipped out on loan alongside Green and Suliman during the summer. Teenage defender Mitchell Clark has earned rave reviews on loan at Port Vale, making Villa’s relentless chasing of a new defensive option seem bizarre as three contracted prodigies have been ousted. With Jack Grealish struggling to find form and Villa leaking goals, retaining some of the youthful contingent would have seemed logical as well as financially favourable.
Keeping faith in Steve Bruce
After watching Villa stumble out of the blocks, it is perhaps easy to suggest that the club should have axed their manager in the summer. Hindsight certainly makes it easier and people would describe it at a risk to make such a statement after just nine league games. However, it is difficult to envisage a future for Steve Bruce at Villa Park. The club seem in desperate need of a fresh approach, with Bruce seemingly running out of ideas in recent weeks. Tactical approach issues aside, the biggest obstacle he faces is winning over the supporters, who have turned their back on the man in the hot seat. With ten minutes remaining in last week’s defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, the stands emptied and Bruce cut a despondent figure. Mid-season managerial changes are never ideal but a return to the Premier League is looking less likely with every passing week under Bruce.
Aston Villa face Bristol City tomorrow evening, a side they trail by a point in the Championship table.