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Villa pulled strings to have Jordan Ayew, then Steve Bruce didn’t use him

Jordan Ayew was set to join Ghana today to prepare for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations, but Villa put in a request to have him for the trip to Cardiff. 1-0 down at the half, Steve Bruce brought on Gabby Agbonlahor, not Ayew.

Cardiff City v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship
CARDIFF, WALES - JANUARY 02: Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce prior to kick off of the Sky Bet Championship match between Cardiff City and Aston Villa at The Cardiff City Stadium on January 02, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales.
Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

What was the point of that?

Having Jordan Ayew around for one more match before he jets off to the Africa Cup of Nations was, undoubtedly, to be a nice thing. Even if he didn’t make the starting XI, Ayew was one of the best players available for selection today, and with Aston Villa a goal down at halftime, attacking firepower was Steve Bruce’s call coming out of the break.

In a match where Villa were struggling to create anything, perhaps except for the occasional fine bit of play from Albert Adomah, it was a match screaming out for the individual talent and ability to create from nothing that Ayew brings to the table.

Instead, Bruce ran well-past-his-prime Gabby Agbonlahor out there again, and then, in the closing stages of the match, ran the young Rushian “still hasn’t signed a deal” Hepburn-Murphy out for this second appearance of the season, needing a goal.

But let’s think about this: In one corner, you have a player who’s set to go join the Ghana national team, one of the two best in Africa, for their continental tournament — and you’ve requested that he stay another day to be available for you in your trip to Cardiff. On the other corners, you have a guy you sent to fat camp and a teenager, neither of whom have done anything to prove themselves this year.

You went with the latter two instead.

Not only have you left your best attacking option on the bench in a match where you struggled to generate clear-cut chances, but you’ve now gone and agitated him, the Ghana FA and your supporters by failing to play him after you requested he be made available.

Combine that with the pending sale of Rudy Gestede, who could have helped change the focal point of the attack to rescue a point like he did last time out against Leeds United; the recent decision to play Mark Bunn, who’s costing Villa points, over Pierluigi Gollini; and the decision to freeze Aaron Tshibola out of the squad until a fine second-half performance and, yeah, there should be questions asked of Steve Bruce tonight.

And if you’re not going to play Ayew ahead of Agbonlahor, it’s probably time to just sell the player and move on.

Had Villa taken care of business today, they’d be four points back of the play-offs in ninth place. Instead, they’ve given back any recent progress made, and now sit in 12th, staring at a seven-point gap when they return to league action in a couple of weeks. It’s the first truly bad result for Villa under Bruce, yes, but it’s an impressively bad one at a key juncture.