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Smith v Bruce: The surprise candidates topping Villa’s list of most successful gaffers

Believe it or not, two of Aston Villa’s most successful managers will pit their wits against each-other at Villa Park this Monday night.

Aston Villa Training and Press Conference Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

That’s right, the connoisseur of ‘Bruce-ball’ himself matches up with the likes Graham Taylor and even surpasses the man who delivered our major European titles, Tony Barton, at least if we’re talking in win percentage terms.

Of course Bruce took the reins at Villa Park for only half of Villa’s three year Championship stay, but don’t we all know too well the toils of an arduous second division. Well at least not to the extent of a certain club in Yorkshire.

Bruce won 46 games for Aston Villa, which equated to a 45% winning ratio in the 102 games he managed. It was the looming opportunity to win a 44th game that almost changed the course of Villa’s and Bruce’s eventual destiny. Though that particular win was critically delayed by a couple of long summer months. It could well have come at Wembley, but instead it was a win on Humberside that turned out be the start of a new chapter.

Jack waved goodbye, Xia rolled the dice and for Bruce, well, it was a summer of planning without his star men. Our club looked down and out.

It was cataclysmic narrative, starring a bankrupt chairman without any spare change for club tracksuits. Bruce was going head to head with a French icon, but at least one of them would look the part in the dugout come August.

Though in a real back from the brink story, Bruce would keep his role as Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens held that Luke Roper shirt beside their jaded Geordie. It was a summer that would in fact produce so much even against the restless rhetoric that unnerved Villans across the land. The two billionaires managed to restore equilibrium in B6 after a decade of financial insecurity.

Bruce would live long enough to become a real villain in the eyes of those who lost an appetite for his stale football. Leaving a bitter taste in the mouth of the masses of whom he undermined, after all, rife hysteria was an all too a familiar occurrence. An unsavoury incident involving a cabbage followed, lit up with the advertising hoardings in the background, it formed an iconic ending to Bruce’s tenure.

Competing within FFP guidelines, the countries fourth richest owners couldn’t initially flex their financial clout but still managed to send a calling card to the capital as Daniel Levy dilly-dallied on prized asset Jack Grealish - we don’t need your money was the message. John McGinn’s signature as recommended by Bruce himself may however turn out to be the most astute piece of business NSWE will oversee.

On paper it was a side more than capable of storming the league, back to front, Axel Tuanzebe, Grealish, McGinn and Tammy Abraham ran through the heart of a side complete, bar one.

Dean Smith was the elected candidate to take control of a two year promotion plan. It was an intensive interview turned tactical masterclass that forced Christian Purslow’s hand.

Smith recruited Tyrone Mings months after his appointment as the club was in the midst of their very own Championship microcosm. Fluctuating from home wins to 3-0 losses at Wigan, Grealish’s return and a star-studded performance in the second city derby was the tonic Smith needed to set a new record of consecutive wins that grew almost a century old.

Indeed, after all that and a twelve game opening to the Premier League season, Smith currently holds the best win percentage of any other Aston Villa manager before him, at 50%.

Holding credibility as one of our own, our gaffer has been in charge for little over a year, but the shelf life for many a manager in a baying cauldron of Villa Park expectation can be perishable. Smith has more wins than Alex McLeish, Remi Garde and Robbie Di Matteo combined, and will manage just as many games as the disastrous trio when he welcomes Bruce to Villa Park this Monday (77).

George Ramsay will and may always be remembered as Villa’s most successful manager as he took Villa through the turn of the 20th century with six FA Cups and Division One Championships, though Smith will challenge his reputable win percentage throughout Villa’s 25th Premier League campaign.

Certainly in that time, Martin O’Neill is the only manager who can contest Smith’s 50% winning performance, with the Irishman claiming victories in 42% of the four years he sat in the Villa dugout.

As evident from the club’s mismanagement at the top since the start of the decade, only Tim Sherwood has registered a win percentage of above 30% with Gerard Houllier who took control from O’Neill, whilst Paul Lambert, McLeish and Garde made up the bottom of the pile.

Finally, here’s an extensive list:

50% - Dean Smith

49% - George Ramsay

48% - W. J. Smith

46% - Jimmy Hogan

45% - Graham Taylor, Steve Bruce

44% - Tony Barton, Vic Crowe, Ron Saunders

43% - Ron Atkinson, John Gregory

42% - Joe Mercer, Martin O’Neill

41% - Brian Little

40% - Alex Massie

39% - George Martin

38% - Gerard Houllier

36% - David O’Leary

35% - Tim Sherwood, Erik Houghton, Dick Taylor

32% - Jozef Venglos

31% - Graham Turner

31% - Jimmy McMullen

29% - Paul Lambert, Tommy Cummings

28% - Tommy Docherty

22% - Billy McNeill

21% - Alex McLeish

13% - Remi Garde

8% - Roberto Di Matteo