Aston Villa’s 3-1 FA Cup defeat to Peterborough United on Saturday bought the club crashing back down to earth following the convincing win over Bristol City on New Year’s Day.
An abject display saw League One Posh dominate proceedings at Villa Park and the home side had goalkeeper Jed Steer to thank for the scoreline not being even more embarrassing.
The result highlighted some of the issues that manager Steve Bruce has faced during his tenure, namely a lack of improvement on the pitch across his 15 months in charge.
— NinetyMinutesOnline (@90MinsOnline) January 7, 2018
Perceived ‘long ball’ tactics and indifferent results have seen the former Sunderland boss come under fire from the fans on more than one occasion.
To be clear; Villa’s position in the Championship is markedly better than when he took over from Roberto Di Matteo in October 2016, but it is perhaps not in line with where supporters believe they should be given the resources at his disposal.
The club has spent around £80 million on new talent since their relegation from the Premier League and on paper have a good mix of players in the squad.
There are experienced older heads, proven Championship stars and a sprinkling of homegrown talents for Bruce to choose from, but there is a feeling that his outdated tactics are nullifying their technical abilities.
The 57-year-old has repeatedly insisted that he wants his side to play bold, offensive football but worryingly that does not seem to translate to the pitch.
Too often the ball is lumped long and the midfield completely bypassed, meaning either that Bruce is unable to convey his message to the team on the training field, or that he in fact is not as interested in their style of play as he claims.
Clearly, this would be less of an issue were the Villans sitting in the automatic promotion places, but if the fans are not being entertained and results are not as expected, then the boss is likely to come under pressure.
To take an extreme example, Manchester City finished a disappointing third in the Premier League last term, but the attractive football that they employed ensured that Pep Guardiola avoided the kind of criticism that befell Louis van Gaal during his time at neighbours Manchester United.
The Villa Park faithful know that promotion is the only real target this season, but with Bruce struggling to deliver some are looking around and thinking, ‘surely we could be achieving these results whilst also playing a more pleasing brand of football?’
Wins such as the 5-0 against Bristol City are seen as the anomalies, with most of the victories over the past year coming from underwhelming performances, often bailed out by the goals of Jonathan Kodjia or Albert Adomah.
Now, with the team out of the FA Cup, all of Bruce’s eggs are in the promotion basket and failure to get the team out of the second tier by the end of the current campaign will likely cost him his job.
His remit is to reach the top flight by hook or by crook and whilst he may still achieve that, the way the team has played for the majority of his reign has not bought him any leniency from the terraces.
Should Bruce fall short, there will be few calling for him to stay.