Aston Villa have struggled since their relegation to the Championship at the end of the 2015/16 campaign. The Villains endured a dismal season that year, accumulating a mere 17 points. Their fortunes didn’t change in the second tier the following season and despite aspiring for promotion, they had to settle for a disappointing 13th place finish. This season, however, the outlook is more positive at Villa Park as Aston Villa currently sits second in the Championship, one point ahead of third place Derby County.
Manager Steve Bruce came in as replacement to Roberto Di Matteo in October 2016 but the upturn in results wasn’t immediate and it is only this season that the club are seeing the benefits of sticking with Bruce. The groundwork for the recent success was laid down in the 2017 January transfer window. Bruce secured the acquisitions of Conor Hourihane, Neil Taylor and Scott Hogan that month. Hourihane and Taylor fitted straight into the team and the experience they gained with their new club in the second half of last season has benefited them massively this time round. Hogan, on the other hand, endured a horrid 2017 with an ankle injury keeping him out from February until the end of the season. Hogan suffered another setback in November last year when he was brought to hospital during Ireland’s play-off against Denmark, which kept him out of action for another month. That night, Hogan underwent surgery due to blockage in his bowel. Since the turn of the year, Hogan has banged in five goals in six games which has played a major role in Villa’s rise to second place.
Steve Bruce is a manager who knows the Championship inside out and has proven this once again. He has gained promotion to the Premier League with both Birmingham City and Hull City, and is currently on track to do the same with his current club. Villa play an attract style of football with the likes of Robert Snodgrass and Jack Grealish in midfield. Bruce’s man management qualities are extremely evident in this team. Players such as Snodgrass, Taylor and James Chester couldn’t nail down a starting place for their previous clubs in the Premier League but are now thriving under his management. Before Bruce came in, Grealish looked like he was on his way to becoming the next Ravel Morrison. A fantastic young talent who’s off-field antics could potentially ruin his career. In 2015, The Sun newspaper released pictures of Grealish inhaling nitrous oxide. This was only the start though. Just two months after these photos were published, Grealish was pictured passed out on the side of a road in Tenerife.
A change to his lifestyle has been followed by a change on the pitch. Bruce is now playing Grealish as an attacking midfielder rather than a winger and he is thriving in the role.
Villa recorded a huge derby win on Sunday against local rivals Birmingham City to give their promotion hopes another boost. Albert Adomah put the Villans ahead on 60 minutes, which was followed by a cracking half-volley from Hourihane.
Next up for Steve Bruce’s men is fellow promotion hopefuls Fulham. With 31 games played and 15 remaining, Aston Villa are in with a great chance of returning to the promised land of the Premier League should they keep up their recent form.
Although they would be favorites to go up via the play-offs, automatic promotion is certainly the aim.