“There’ll be a few looking over their shoulders, which is good,” Steve Bruce declared.
Not a phrase we expected to hear so soon after his appointment either. Bruce has been in charge for seven games and in that time, accrued five more points than his predecessor had in the opening eleven fixtures of the season.
It’s fashionable to criticise Roberto Di Matteo and to some extent deserved. 1 win, 7 draws and 3 defeats tells its own story; Villa weren’t easy to beat but couldn’t win either.
The Italian was necessary in the Villa story though. A root and branch clear-out was needed in the summer. Attitudes and abilities needed refreshing, became too accepting of defeat. I guess an inevitable relegation for much of the previous season has that effect on players.
And he made some good signings, let’s be fair to the guy. He couldn’t inspire the players to greater things though. I’m sure, in time that the tales will be properly told out of the dressing room putting us right on where it all went wrong but Di Matteo seems the archetypal ‘nice guy’.
I’m sure he’s got a steely streak in him but he always struck me as if he’d be a pantomime villain when he gets angry.
Bruce? Old school; pwoper naughty. The Danny Dyer of football management. A diamond geezer until you cross him. Or Jimmy Nail, I suppose, as he’s a Geordie. Auf Weidersehn Pet ‘n’ all that.
If Bruce gets angry, you know it’s genuine, not laced with niceties.
And that what Villa needed. The club needed to be shaken to its very core and Bruce did that. Now the same players have produced four wins and three draws, hauling themselves from 20th to 11th.
Tomorrow’s trip to Leeds is a testing fixture but not the hardest yet by any means. Draws at Birmingham and Brighton, if somewhat fortuitously gained, bred confidence but they were tougher games because the team lacked confidence at that time.
There was a steel to the Villa side on those days, one which isn’t prepared to collapse when the pressure grows. The signs of a promotion-winning squad or just one coming to terms with a new regime and raising their game? The latter is forging the former.
Bruce’s arrival changed expectations. No longer did we think it was a matter of time before an equaliser was conceded; now it’s a surprise. Almost. There’s a new energy around the place, a sense of belief growing and with it, as Bruce said, expectation.
But where does the expectation end and reality begin? Are Villa a play-off side or one capable of getting into the automatic places?
It’s a tough question to answer, not just from our point of view but others as well. Four weeks ago, Norwich were on the cusp of the top two; now they are in freefall. Huddersfield blazed an early trail only for Reading to come from nowhere. Well, OK, slightly lower the table; higher than nowhere but not as high as somewhere.
We have a decent run of fixtures between now and January. Tomorrow is the hardest on paper; football’s not played on paper though. If we don’t take 18 from 21 points it’s a poor return. That’s enough to put us into the top four. From there…?
That’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get into the top six first. Can we do it? Oh, I believe we can. Then again, I still believe in Father Christmas….