Drama at Villa Park as Bruce on the brink

Dave Woodhall reports on the events surrounding Villa’s drama-filled 3-3 draw at home to Preston.

The brother of a friend celebrated the 75th anniversary of his first-ever Villa match on Tuesday. He won’t have seen many more action-packed 45 minutes than the second half he witnessed against Preston, but ‘action-packed’ is only one way to describe it. You could also use ‘shambolic’, ‘pitiful’ and more than likely ‘unemployment-inducing’.

Because there can surely be no way back for Steve Bruce as Villa manager now, and it’s getting to the stage where the end of his time would be more of a mercy killing than an execution. But, as is often the case, it could have been so different.

Villa were doing well at half-time, Not brilliant, but well enough to have a two-goal lead against a team not only bottom of the table but also suffering the sort of injury list that we’re used to seeing. Jonathan Kodjia’s header and a solo goal from Tammy Abraham had put Villa firmly in control, with Preston showing the lack of confidence expected in their position. They came out firing at the start of the second half, but with nothing to lose that was no real surrpise. Let them have their ten minutes, cope with it calmly and then take control again once they ran out of ideas.

The first eight minutes were coped with sure enough, albeit a bit more dangerously than we’d have liked. We’ll never know if Preston would have run out of ideas because in the ninth minute James Chester went in for what was barely a challenge, possibly a penalty, but never in a million years a straight red card. The resulting spot kick was scored and from then on it was panic stations.

Mark Bunn, another in a depressingly long line of unreliable Villa keepers, could have been said to be at fault for Preston’s second and third goals. Then, with the ground emptying by the second and Bruce’s departure growing more imminent with every vacant seat, Yannick Bolasie scrambled an equaliser and there was still time for the second penalty of the evening.

The debate will no doubt continue for a long time as to why Glenn Whelan took the ball. Bolaise, full of confidence after his goal, was the logical choice. John McGinn could probably have bent it round the corner flag and into the back of the net with ease. But no. Whelan picked up the ball, hit the tamest of shots that the keeper was able to save scarcely without moving, and that was it. No more drama, and quite possibly no more Steve Bruce. Had Preston not scored, Villa would now be in the top six and Bruce would almost certainly live to see a few more days. As the great Ron Saunders once reflected, the diving line between success and failure is so very thin.

As it is, if the curtain is now coming down on Steve Bruce’s time it will be the bitterest of ironies that Whelan, whose injury-time equaliser for Stoke almost a decade ago indirectly set in progress a chain of events that has left Villa in this current position, might have been the man to see off yet another manager.

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