Blackburn Rovers arrive at Villa Park for the final match before the tedious interruption of the international break. Second bottom, one win from their last; what could possibly stop Villa taking three points?
Themselves is the answer that flashed through everyone’s mind. Steve Bruce’s reign has begun with eight points, almost as many as had been gained in the previous ten games of the season. The improvement isn’t startling; you expect a boost under a new manager. The question is whether Bruce can keep it going.
Last weekend’s point was a good one in the context of the game. Considering the statistics which reflect Birmingham’s superiority of possession and shots, etc., coming away with a point was no mean feat. The doggedness of the performance was a good sign and whilst conceding an equaliser was a familiar feeling, this time it wasn’t as disappointing as before. It had been coming, if we’re honest.
But that’s the past. Now we’re looking to move forward. Bruce stunned everyone with his inclusion of Gabby in the squad but once on the bench, he was always going to play. His attitude, according to the manager, has been positive in the squad and toward his fitness.
It’s too soon to claim he’s back to his best or whether he’s back for any long spell of time. Gabby’s carrying a lot of baggage – as opposed to weight – and will need to prove himself again before scepticism about his reprieve is wiped away. However, if he is determined to return to the first team, fair play to him.
We may need him. Jonathan Kodjia and Jordan Ayew, who is missing today through suspension, go to the Africa Cup of Nations in the winter and their long absence needs to be covered. Gabby may be one of the men doing so. Despite the promise, a non-scoring forward is of no use to anyone and eleven goals in 86 appearances is an incredibly poor return. If there are genuine ambitions for promotion, he needs to contribute more in that sense.
Jack Grealish returns today, his three-match ban duly completed. A vital part of the team, it must have ‘killed’ him to miss out last weekend. If it’s a lesson he’s learned, fair enough. Discipline will be important as we seek to climb the table and ours has to improve. Part of that will come into play with defending. Three goals in four games suggests Bruce knows getting that part right is the foundation of success.
Other than Grealish coming in for Ayew, will he have any other unenforced changes in mind? Gestede could come in for Ayew with Jedinak and Gardiner either side of Grealish in central midfield? I’m not convinced Gestede will be used today other than as a substitute, no matter how well motivated he may be against his former club.
Three points ought to take us into the top half of the table and going into a fortnight off, keep morale high. I’m confident of a convincing win, 3 – 1 is my shout for the day.