Time stood still for a brief moment when Richard Wood’s header glanced past the Aston Villa post. An alternate reality would have saw the ball fly by Ørjan Nyland in the Villa goal into the net. It’s funny - the land of what could have been. Steve Bruce’s 99th game in charge of Villa could have turned on it’s head in an instant, in what amounted to an unavoidable chance on goal.
Villa fans will no longer be wondering what could have been, after AVFC largely controlled the empty-ish threat of Rotherham and bagged two goals and a clean sheet with Tammy Abraham and Yannick Bolasie scoring. A good win is on board, but it comes with so much baggage that it seems less of a major relief, and a more of a delay of an expected outcome.
Villa started off trading blows with Rotherham, who seemed intent on staying solid at the back and pressing across the pitch - spitting in the face of those who had decreed that the Yorkshire side would be happy with a solitary point. They have come a long way since they last played at Villa Park, on the opening home game of Villa’s first season in the Championship, and no longer look like a team that will exist in the league to make up the numbers.
However, Villa, as Villa should be, were too much for them. The home side were allowed everything to go their way and the pressing of Rotherham simply aided Villa to play out from the back. That also presented an inherent weakness, as AVFC’s worst enemy is often the rushed decisions they make in-game. Too often the wrong move is made. As Rotherham were pushed back, Villa were allowed to control the game and while they looked comfortable, they looked as though the ideas had drained from them, and while the personnel on pitch showed creativity, too often it ran them into a dead end.
Villa’s first goal came through Jon Kodjia, who played Tammy Abraham through on goal with an eye-pleasing rollthrough pass. The Ivorian delighted across the pitch and showed a drop of the shoulder and an ability to rip open the game for Villa. This was mirrored by Yannick Bolasie who scored an excellent thundering header to seal the victory for Villa late on.
While Villa’s new strike-force enjoyed a good night, full plaudits will have to head to John McGinn, who seemed to carve out the midfield circle and mark his kingdom there, forcing roving Rotherham players back into their territory with a snarl. McGinn has made a clear statement to this side, something that had seemingly sent Conor Hourihane reeling before the Irishman fought back to claim his own place in Villa’s side. With the pair fitting in the team at the same time, a lot has freed up for Villa - a side who now seem to have turned the corner (again). Mile Jedinak took a step forward today, after being returned to his crowbarred role of centre-back, and actually looks like he might work there. We’ll wait and see on that.
It all could have changed with Wood’s header though, one of two chances that fired just wide of Nyland’s right post. We’d be in a different timeline right now, and Steve Bruce certainly wouldn’t have been as peppy when facing the media post-game.
As for the man himself, Steve Bruce is clearly still very much in the firing line - and that’s natural. Managers were made to get hired, and then fired. It’s pretty much why they exist. That pressure will only fade if Villa can grow and claim victories. It won’t fade if he swings out (still, fairly) at fans. There is a growing divide in the Villa fanbase, and Bruce’s post-match comments should be deemed fair in every other realm apart from the world of football. Healing won’t come to Villa like this, and it has been far too often that the blows to the fanbase, and the team, have come from comrades. Winning games (or trying to win games) will fix almost everything, but all the hard work counts for naught if it’s followed by a metaphorical slap to the jaw.
One thing we should all try to remember to do is to separate Steve Bruce from the club. Too much of our time is spent on over-praising him, or damning him. Life could be a lot sweeter if we chose to look away, as there’s no valiant fight to lead against him here. The man will not be the manager of Aston Villa until the end of time, this is all temporary. Our efforts should go towards vigorous support and honest criticism - because we should find our own way to heal, accept, and move on. It seems as though Bruce has become a cult figure at Villa for all the wrong reasons, and most things written about him serve to only boost his mythology, even the severe criticism. Let’s not do that anymore. We’ve made a monster here, and if it’s not the man himself lashing out, it’s the idea of him in our heads. We’ve made that. We devote far too much of our time discussing him, rather than the club. Is that odd? Bruce will hope that this win wires the jaws of his critics shut, but it shouldn’t as it’s simply a natural occurrence in his role, a role of his choice. If we can avoid slugging at each other, we could be happier, because this won’t change for Villa without catastrophe.
A win is certainly a win, and we will not be complaining if Villa win every single game from here on out in the same manner as tonight. We can only wait and see, as a negative result against Sheffield Wednesday on the weekend will send Villa reeling once more.