Why things unravelled at Aston Villa for Steve Bruce
A “shapeless mess”. No, that’s not a description of Newcastle United at the King Power Stadium, but of Aston Villa 12 months ago.
Steve Bruce was dismissed as manager at Villa Park a year ago today amid fan discontent at the club.
Twelve months on, there’s unrest on Tyneside in the wake of the 5-0 defeat to Leicester City, though Bruce, appointed as Rafa Benitez’s successor in the summer, is not understood to be in any immediate danger at St James’s Park.
Patience is wearing thin in the stands, yet there hasn’t been a chant against Bruce. Supporters are giving him time, whatever their reservations about his appointment.
And in the boardroom there’s a willingness to give the 58-year-old more time after a summer of upheaval and change at United.
Bruce was sacked by Villa after a run of one win from nine Championship games. The club was 12th in the table following a 3-3 draw against Preston North End. One supporter had thrown a cabbage at him before the game.
A criticism of him at Villa – who went on to win promotion to the Premier League under Bruce’s successor Dean Smith – was that the team didn’t have an identity.
And one thing Newcastle need under Bruce is an identity. The club had one under Benitez, but does Bruce have a vision for the team? Does he know how to get the best out of his players?
Speaking after Bruce’s dismissal, journalist John Percy said: “Even after two years there’s still no identity. It a bit of a shapeless mess. There was never any shape or identity.”
Newcastle, certainly, were a mess against Leicester. Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka admitted as much himself. Bruce called it a “complete surrender”.
There are parallels. There were off-the-field issues at Villa Park before a change in ownership. And Bruce was never really accepted by many Villa fans because of his previous association with Birmingham City, their fiercest rivals.
Bruce, of course, also managed Sunderland earlier in his career, and his boyhood allegiance to Newcastle counts for little.
The only thing that counts, right now, is performances and results.