At least Steve Bruce is adamant he can turn Aston Villa round. After another half-baked performance, and another abject display on the road, it was inevitable that Bruce would face questions over his future, after a winless start to the Championship, in a season where promotion is non-negotiable.
This defeat left Bruce without a league win since April, with Villa second-bottom, and culminated in his team being jeered by sections of the 3,935 travelling supporters at Reading.
“I am the manager of Aston Villa and I expect them to boo because the results aren’t what they expect,” Bruce said. The Villa manager had made four changes from the team beaten 3-0 at Cardiff City on Saturday but their supporters were again left shortchanged.
“I can understand their frustration. They have paid their hard-earned money to come and see their team perform, and win, basically,” Bruce said. “I have been here many, many times and been successful at every Championship club I have been to. If I am given time, I will do it again. Whether I am given that time, that is not for me to answer but I sincerely hope so. This is a big job and I am still in the middle of rebuilding.”
Villa, as Bruce reiterated here, have previously thrown millions at new players, with little to show for it. Last summer Roberto Di Matteo signed nine players before Bruce added another eight in January. Then came another six new faces over the summer, the most recent being Joshua Onomah, on a season-long loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Worryingly, it was only really the 20-year-old who showed any kind of urgency, berating Gabriel Agbonlahor on one occasion for failing to press.
Bruce feels “two transfer windows is not enough to be judged on”, given the scale of the clean-up job at Villa Park, and admits he is “under the cosh” to ensure they meet Financial Fair Play regulations. “Probably part of the reason I got the job was because they trust me to do it,” he said.
The numbers on the pitch make grim reading, too. Reading bullied a vulnerable defence, again led by John Terry, that has shipped six goals in three league matches. And it gets worse; away from home Villa have won only four league games in 43 attempts and have kept only three clean sheets in their past 21 matches.
Villa’s problems on the road were mirrored off the field when their glistening new team coach broke down on the A12 en route back from a rare away win at Colchester United in the EFL Cup last Wednesday. Keith Wyness, the Villa chief executive, said last week that away form “came out as a big shining Belisha beacon” in a team meeting, organised to rectify their struggles.
Those overwhelming concerns remain, however. Barring André Green’s golden chance, when put through one-on-one against Vito Mannone after five minutes, they were bullied and picked apart by Reading until Conor Hourihane’s sweet consolation strike, coming after a Glenn Whelan own goal and a close-range effort from Modou Barrow had put Reading in control. A difficult evening for Villa was made worse by Scott Hogan suffering yet another ankle injury, with Bruce highlighting Jonathan Kodjia’s continued absence as another problem he could do without.
But at the other end Villa look terribly vulnerable. Ritchie De Laet was frequently exposed before being replaced by Alan Hutton, while the central midfield pairing of Whelan and Hourihane were all too easily bypassed. Reading found it easy to break Villa down and there was no steel to a team despite having plenty of experience. Bruce, however, is still insistent he is the man for the job.
“I think it is too early to be judged – we are only a week in but we have all the hype and hurrah because we have signed John Terry,” added Bruce, who also denied suggestions his captain still spends time at Chelsea’s Cobham training base as part of his recovery. “It is a very, very difficult job,” he said. “I am glad I have got the experience that I have because I am the right man for it. My record tells you that. I don’t become a bad manager in a week.”
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