From behind a screen, it’s been difficult to read manager Steve Bruce’s responses to criticism of Aston Villa’s play during dry spells like the one in which we currently find ourselves. Poor losses to Derby County and Brentford around draws to Leeds, Millwall and Sheffield United—which were all pretty generous results in their own ways—have at one side of the spectrum some fans looking for blood, and at the other some giving more rope to a manager who has seen these spells pop up in bunches in the year he’s been at the helm. Regardless of whether you think Bruce should be the one to see this crucial season out, you probably could do with a more critical approach to his pressers and with fewer condescending “week away from a crisis”-type quotes.
So in the spirit of increased accountability, and—most crucially—since I wasn’t around at the time to make foolish predictions, we present to you, dear reader and fellow Villan, our mid season review where we take stock of our preseason predictions, bask in glowing adoration of our dart board’s best hits, and, of course, welcome your unchecked and wholly unreasonable rage. As always, if you want to engage feel free to comment below or rant at us @7500toholte and really feel free to make it personal. It’s our holiday gift to you.
The below will be truncated responses. Feel free to check out the links for our contributors full analysis.
Alex: Lee Johnson. Bristol City.
Elis: Leonid Slutsky. Hull City.
James: Steve Bruce. Aston Villa.
Phil: Steve Bruce. Aston Villa.
Robert: Steve Bruce. Aston Villa.
Hilariously Harry Redknapp only made it a lucky 13 matches into the campaign, but we’ll give Elis credit here that Leonid Slutsky was the first that our crew mentioned, and he was laid off in early December. Hull City hasn’t so much righted the ship, though, only winning once since showing Slutsky the door. If Alex’s shot were called and Lee Johnson were given notice, many Villan fans would then hope James, Phil and Robert’s predictions came true to make room.
Who will be the Championships top scorer?
Alex: Jonathan Kodjia.
Elis: Britt Assombalonga.
James: Jonathan Kodjia.
Herbert: Chris Wood.
Phil: Jordan Rhodes.
Robert: Jonathan Kodjia.
Currently Leon Clarke of Sheffield United is holding the top spot with 14 goals, but again Elis is close to the money with Britt Assombalonga in a tie for third with 12. Chris Wood making his way to Burnley did no favors for Herbert here, whereas Jordan Rhodes has tallied a quarter of his goals this campaign against our own, so Phil’s going to keep his fingers crossed.
Jonathan Kodjia’s injury issues this season have kept him off open play tallies, but it’s worth noting that the clubs complete reliance on him last season to score is, I’m sure, what led our contributors to select him. If Kodjia had played all year, Albert Adomah’s sixth-placed 11 goals on the season would be in bulk to Kodjia’s credit.
The first section of this prediction, where every one of our contributors chose Jon Kodjia as our top scorer, is therefore allowed some grace. A more interesting question was who would be passing Kodjia the ball on those goals?
Alex: Albert Adomah.
Elis: Conor Hourihane Ahmed Elmohamady (tie)
Herbert: Conor Hourihane.
James: Henri Lansbury.
Phil: Conor Hourihane.
John TerryAlbert Adomah.
Currently Robert Snograss is taking the cake here with six helpers, yet it’s worth pointing out he’s doing it from the right wing, where Alex and Robert would have assumed Albert Adomah would be playing. That it took so long for Adomah to make a match for the club is still baffling, but Snodgrass has been a welcome addition in spite of what seems like some accumulation of fatigue and injury concerns over the last few weeks as he hasn’t looked himself.
Elis, again and on a limb, has been having himself a day here, choosing Ahmed Elmohamady and Conor Hourihane to tie. Elmo is actually second on the team with three assists and Hourihane is right behind with two. Henri Lansbury, selected by James and in a very limited amount of time on the pitch, has also provided two assists to go level with Hourihane, Kodjia and Scott Hogan.
Who’s the player to watch?
Alex: Jack Grealish.
Elis: Andre Green.
Herbert: Jonathan Kodjia.
James: Conor Hourihane.
Phil: James Bree.
Robert: Jonathan Kodjia.
There’s a lot to look at this list and be sad about. Jack Grealish’s early kidney injury, Jonathan Kodjia’s ankle, Andre Green’s knee and James Bree’s apparent banishment, so we have to give James the win here by choosing Conor Hourihane. His hat trick against Norwich was a thing of beauty and combined with Robert Snodgrass has turned Aston Villa free kicks and set pieces into a thing of beauty. Let’s check that hat trick again. Remember scoring goals?
Elis: UP: Middlesbrough, Fulham, Wolves. DOWN: Barnsley, Sheffield United, Bristol City.
Herbert: UP: Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, Fulham
James: UP: Middlesbrough, Reading, no 3rd pick. DOWN: Millwall, Birmingham, Forest
Phil: UP: Middlesbrough, Fulham, Derby DOWN: Burton, Bolton, Millwall
Robert: UP: Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Fulham. DOWN: Birmingham City, Millwall, Bristol City.
The Smoggies certainly had our attention before the season, yet as of today they sit in 7th place at 38 points, with a single goal advantage over Aston Villa, a disappointing start for the club that led the team to jettison manager Garry Monk for Tony Pulis just days ago. For two clubs with similar aspirations and in shockingly similar situations in the table, it’s certain that Boro’s determination to get the most out of their squad by making the Monk-Pulis switch and Villa’s choices to go it with Bruce will be set side by side come the end of the campaign as well as this weekends mammoth test.
Among the promotion spots, Elis was noteworthy to select Wolves who look a cut above the rest of the league, whereas James choosing Reading looks circumspect.
The real shocker has been Bruce castoff Nathan Baker’s Bristol City side. Chosen by two of our members to go down at season’s completion, the Robins sit second in the table and have given English football some of that sweet, sweet, viral content the ‘Colombian White’ to every clubs social media producer, as well as one of the years best memories with Korey Smith’s stoppage time goal against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup.
On the whole, I came away pretty impressed with the groups selections. There were unforeseen circumstances like injuries to Jon Kodjia and Jack Grealish, and the loan signing of Robert Snodgrass that diced some things up, but the group did well with Elis’ selections really standing out. Shooters shoot, as one says.
This last question was indicative, though. This was all meant to be a fun endeavour. Have some light-hearted humour in looking back and also seeing how things can truly change. These matches aren’t won by transfers or on betting slips, and “the games aren’t played on paper” and all, but in our final preview, Alex Carson wrote this about where Villa would end up come the end of the season.
Alex: Ninth. Villa are built to play attacking football. Until they start playing that way consistently, I can’t commit to expecting a true promotion chase.
And that kind of takes the fun out of it. There are real issues with this club. Issues that were there when Bruce took over, issues when he made transfers in January and over the summer, issues when we previewed this season, and issues at the end of this calendar year. The club is still developing a culture and an identity that’s yet to follow through to top level performance on the pitch to match the talent of the players. Steve Bruce, in pithy comments during media availability, cites the passions of the fan, but he doesn’t cite the class of the fans. The away allocation at the very least are the ones who know sustainable successful football doesn’t mean papering over issues with individual brilliance. That road leads to highlights, but it doesn’t lead to promotion.
So I guess that’s a larger point of us looking back like this—though we still want your jests and ribbing. We have twenty-two matches remaining and we can see where we are in the table and where we expected to go. Our expectations for this team shouldn’t be results-based, but process-based and the fans deserve that credit from Bruce. Let’s continue to support this team, but it’s not laughable, and we’re not being dramatic, when we go ninety minutes wondering what the plan was.
It remains true before the season, and it’s true now: if this team can develop the identity to utilize it’s talent which we have done for short spells during a few matches this season, then this is a team that can still push to promotion. If not, then Bruce’s seat will continue to get hotter.