Something For The Weekend (578)
There's a lot to be admired about the Greeks. Some people like the columns, others like the philosophy, but I think most people have a soft spot for the concept of shooting the bearer of bad news. So bringing bad news to those who only want to hear the good is a risky business but it has to be said that the evidence offered by recent Villa performances amounts to a great big zilch, by way of positive signs to perk up the faithful. Villa's Prometheus in the person of Steve Bruce seems to have stolen the fire from the Villa gods and there are plenty of the angry, dismayed and gutted fans, who are beginning to think that him having his liver pecked out every night for eternity would be a punishment worthy of the crime.
I know memories are short and that in extremes of emotion things tend to get exaggerated but Villa's performance against Cardiff was up there with the worst of the worst, in living memory. Three-nil was bad but it really should have been twice that and more, had Cardiff taken a few more of their many chances, and the scoreline wasn't even the worst thing about the game. Villa were completely overpowered by Cardiff and I can't remember Villa's attackers winning too many headers, and yet the midfielders still persisted in humping it high and long, for the ball to immediately come back with interest. They were slow to close down, quick to give the ball away, and their shape resembled a disturbed ants nest at times. The expected composure which the arrival of John Terry was supposed to bring to the club was no where to be seen. Individual error we accept and forgive but such collective loss of cohesion and absence of bottle, can only provoke questions about the state of the club.
Then come Tuesday night when it was still possible to claim that Cardiff's tactics didn't suit Villa in their present state, Villa got to play Reading who play in a style exactly opposite to Cardiff's, in that they pass it to death, and although the final score was lower, Villa were just as tepid and clueless. A team known to be understrength was given all the time to play their possession game at training-ground pace as Villa stood back, and it was very much the case of a night of 'After you Claude'. I am often heard to drone on about possession being a poor predictor of outcome but I think Villa only managing 15% of the play for much of the game, was taking the proverbial... Villa got a goal back after substitute Gabby's pace caught Reading sleeping and Conor Hourihane scored his second goal since arriving at Villa in January. Villa slipped into the relegation zone with all the horrific inevitability of the Titanic. If Villa are not quite sunk just yet they are definitely all at sea.
The question is how has Steve Bruce managed to take a team which was capable of winning, albeit narrowly and in a not too thrilling fashion, and turn it into a team which looks mentally frail and destined to be fighting a relegation battle, by spending another substantial tranche of the owner's money. Last season, at times, it looked like Villa were only a tweak away from being a decent Championship side, but now the whole team looks wrong, even if certain individuals occasionally impress.
During the press conference before the Cardiff game, according to Bruce himself, the club is chasing transfer targets who will make Villa as hard to beat as Cardiff. Let's just hope they arrive and that the present slump is due to Bruce spending less time man-managing the squad. Villa's slump in January coincided with the transfer window and Bruce's distraction as he chased his targets seemed to rob the squad of their belief. We can only hope that when these latest deals are done Bruce reasserts his influence and Villa improve.
With Villa entertaining Norwich this weekend Bruce's charges definitely need to improve. Norwich finished eight points better off back in May but the spoils were evenly shared over the campaign, with Villa managing a one-nil win at home, but then slumped to a massively disappointing two-nil loss at Carrow Road. Norwich's finest hour was probably their 7-1 home win over Reading but they finished the season ten points shy of the play-off places. It looks like a tough game for Villa with their confidence having been so thoroughly shredded on the road. I'm only hoping that Villa Park continues to deserve the name fortress and Villa can get at least something out of the game. The fans will be looking for some sign of light, which they have been desperate for, for far too long.
Keep the faith!