“I have been here six months and a pre-season now and I still can’t get the balance right – that we can roll our sleeves up and we are prepared for what the Championship is.”
Those were the words of Steve Bruce after Aston Villa’s horrendous 3-0 defeat to Cardiff City on Saturday.
There were a number of other startling sound bites from the post-match presser that shine a worrying spotlight on the Villa boss’s tenure. Frankly speaking, he sounds defeated already.
The local media have been quick to defend the ex-Hull City manager, stating it’s only two games into the season and fans should be patient.
While it is only two games into this campaign, it’s nearly 40 games into Bruce’s tenure and the side, arguably, looks even worse now than under his predecessor, Roberto Di Matteo.
A defeat to Reading on Tuesday night and he’ll have lost as many games as he has won. And that is simply not good enough for a manager who has been handed – relatively speaking – more resources than any Villa boss since Martin O’Neill.
The squad at his disposal is one of the best-assembled in the Championship with more than enough quality in every position to mount a serious promotion push.
Hopes were high, too, that he now had everything he needed to succeed. Indeed this writer had tipped them to go up before the season started with the bookies marking them down as favourites.
Bruce’s squad looks bereft of ideas
However, nine months into his time at Villa Park and the style of play still looks as directionless as a broken compass.
Saturday’s performance at the Cardiff City Stadium was a prime example of a side that didn’t look like it knew what it was supposed to be doing.
There have been flashes of potential here and there, but mostly, Villa have relied on magic from now-injured frontman, Jonathan Kodjia, to bag them wins.
With the Ivorian currently out of the side after sustaining a broken ankle at the tail end of last season, the Midlands side look abject in attack.
Bruce spent big money on Scott Hogan but the former Brentford hitman has managed just two goals in all competitions and looks lost up front, feeding off scraps of long ball football.
The ex-Manchester United defender has long been touted as a formidable manager at this level with four promotions at two different clubs, but there is a feeling he has been left behind in the last few seasons.
Where once the Championship was a melting pot of up and at ‘em football, an influx of progressive coaches has seen more free-flowing teams charge up the table.
Gaffer drowning in sea of expectation
Maybe it’s a question of expectations, too. It’s possible the Villa job is simply too big for Bruce. He buckled badly in his previous big job at Sunderland, and his time at Villa is starting to resemble the unraveling on Wearside.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but nine months in, and one would imagine the lads who built the city had made a fairly good start on things.
Patience is all well and good, but a quick look to the North West and you’ll see Wolverhampton Wanders playing some sparkling football under a manager who has only been in the job a handful of weeks.
Time is running out for Bruce, and by the sounds of things, he knows it. Tuesday night’s game at the Madejski Stadium is pivotal.
It was the scene of a famous, last-gasp victory last season in which the Villans won their first away game in more than a year. A reverse of that result will see a swell of calls for his head.
It’s now very much sink or swim for the former Birmingham City boss.
All odds correct at time of publishing