With Villa losing to Sheffield Wednesday at home on Saturday, Dave Woodhall wonders how much longer?
There comes a time in all businesses where a strategy has to be re-thought. Whether it’s an in-depth business plan, a surprise attack in wartime, or just getting rid of a member of staff who isn’t pulling their weight, you have to accept that it just ain’t working and it’s time to head back to the drawing board.
There was an air of that realisation around Villa Park for almost half an hour on Saturday afternoon. With a team virtually unchanged from Tuesday night and particularly with Mile Jedinak still in defence the omens weren’t great and the first half equally gave grounds for pessimism.
Sheffield Wednesday had gone ahead early in the second half with a decent goal, John McGinn equalised almost immediately with one of the best-hit shots we’ve seen this century. Then instead of going on to claim a victory that might not have been particularly convincing but would have at least kept Villa within striking distance of the promotion places and instilled a bit more confidence into players and supporters alike, the team retreated into its collective shell and another Wednesday goal came as no surprise. There was to be no inspirational second equaliser, no bit of magic to inspire false hope that the inevitable could be delayed.
Villa had lost at home again, for the sixth time in Steve Bruce’s two years and while that’s a reasonable record, the annoying fact is that all those games were ones that should have been routine wins. There seems some strange force around Bruce and his management strategy – go out to win against the best teams, safety first and try not to lose to the rest. It’s not the only aspect of his management that’s a puzzle.
He hasn’t exactly helped his case with his reactions to supporters, either. I know that we’re experts at giving it out then being outraged when we get a bit back, and there’s no point in being a football supporter if you can’t have a few double standards. But, and this is the serious bit, Bruce has been in football, and particularly football management, long enough to know that when the manager starts criticising the supporters there’s only ever going to be one result, and it’s not usually far off.
Every bit of success I’ve ever known at the Villa has come when the manager has created a bond with the fans – think Ron Saunders, Sir Graham, Ron Atkinson and Brian Little. Even Martin O’Neill had the sort of motivational ability that meant supporters would run through just as many brick walls for him as his players would. In these days of social media and every word being pounced on and analysed ad infinitum, trying to cover up your own failings by starting an argument with supporters is career suicide. It’s counter-productive and all it ever does is raise the temperature by causing and widening divisions. Divided clubs simply aren’t successful ones.
And all emotion aside, if you’re still wondering whether or not Bruce should be Villa manager any longer, answer this one: Given that the Villa’s aim is to get promoted this season, is the team likely to do it with him in charge? There’s your answer. Whatever happens at Bristol City on Friday night, that situation isn’t going to change