There was a stark contrast between the last two Aston Villa games and the two that preceded them. There are many factors which go towards a team winning or losing but the biggest single influence seems to be that the former were away games, whilst the latter were played at Villa Park.
Villa’s away form has been dreadful for a long time, this is not a particular Steve Bruce issue. However, his words after the Reading loss, when he admitted he doesn’t known how to turn it around set alarm bells ringing. Despite two very convincing victories using nearly every member of the squad, there is still some trepidation ahead of Friday’s match at Ashton Gate.
Bruce will find himself under pressure again if he doesn’t get at least a draw and even then, the Villa faithful will be disappointed. So how does he get the monkey off the back?
Most managers in dire need of results go with their most trusted players, sometimes at the expense of more talented if slightly erratic players. Bruce confounded everyone against Norwich by doing the opposite. Starting Keinan Davis, Andre Green and Josh Onomah plus allowing Conor Hourihane the freedom of the park was a big gamble that paid off and he’ll need to do the same against Bristol.
City are an aggressive side who, despite being a more possession focused side, are not afraid to go long and be direct. Villa will need to be able to match them physically in the middle. This shouldn’t be an issue, Whelan was signed for this purpose, Hourihane is no push over either and with John Terry and James Chester at centre back, theres no excuse for being bullied.
Most of Bristol’s chances this season have been created through individual skill so Whelan and the full backs need to be sharp and prepared to cover each other.
Bristol struggle with defending against skilful players and this is were Bruce needs to be brave and let Onomah and Green do their thing. It might also be a game more suited to Albert Adomah than Ahmed Elmohamady.
The mental side of the game is perhaps most important and this is where Bruce needs to earn his crust. If he’s too negative with his selection, it sends a message to our team and theirs that he doesn’t think we can play well and win away.
He has to be bold and set the tone before a ball is kicked. Bruce needs to send his lions on the hunt, even if they fail to catch their prey, they will know that he has faith in them and that will be repaid over the course of the season.