Aston Villa announced the departure of manager Steve Bruce less than 24 hours after their 3-3 draw at home to the Championship’s bottom side Preston North End on Tuesday.
A run of just one win in the last nine Championship matches, which saw supporters increasingly show their discontent towards Bruce’s style of play, was enough to force Villa’s hierarchy to dispense with a manager who led The Villains to the Championship play-off final last year.
Bruce was appointed as Aston Villa manager in October 2016 replacing Roberto Di Matteo, who was ironically sacked two years to the day that Bruce was relieved of his duties, with his proven track record in the Championship making him appear to be the ideal man to guide Aston Villa back to the Premier League.
Being a former Birmingham City boss, it was never going to be easy for Bruce to fully win over all of Villa’s fanbase. However, after taking over with the club in 19th place and having won just one of their opening eleven league games, Bruce guided his side to a 13th placed finish having won 15 of the remaining 35 matches.
The following summer saw Bruce bring in the likes of Glenn Whelan, John Terry, Robert Snodgrass, Ahmed El Mohamady and Sam Johnstone, with Lewis Grabban arriving on loan in January having performed well for Sunderland in the first half the campaign.
Those additions added to the expectation and pressure for Villa to secure promotion back to the top-flight, and after a difficult start to the season Bruce’s side recovered achieving a place in the play-offs, finishing in 4th place seven points of the automatic promotion places.
Aston Villa defeated Middlesbrough in the play-off semi finals winning 1-0 on aggregate, after a 1-0 win at the Riverside in the first leg was followed up with a goalless draw at Villa Park. That left Bruce’s side just one game away from securing promotion at Wembley in the Championship play-off final against Fulham. However, it was Fulham who dealt with the occasion better and secured a 1-0 win with a 23rd minute goal from Tom Cairney the difference, as Villa failed to find a way back into the game in the second half, despite Fulham being reduced to ten men with 20 minutes to play.
Missing out on promotion looked more and more costly for The Villains throughout the summer, with the club in financial difficulty and unable to replace the departing John Terry and several key loan players from last season. New investors were eventually found, and Bruce was able to strengthen his squad late on in the transfer window, with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Yannik Boalsie arriving on loan.
Expectations were once again raised and with just three wins from the opening ten matches, supporters were beginning to turn on Bruce ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with Preston at Villa Park. Anything other than a win looked like it would spell the end for Bruce, and despite leading 2-0 at the break and missing a late penalty to win it, Villa could only draw 3-3 and the decision was made to relive Bruce of his duties.