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On the home straight, Villa banking on Premier League return - Interview
Thursday, 1st Mar 2018 18:54 by Clive Whittingham

Two Villa Fans, Sky Sports’ Gerard Brand and Ollie Mason from Heart of the Holte, give us the lowdown on our promotion chasing hosts this Saturday (weather permitting).

Can you assess Villa's season so far for us?

GB: Good. 7/10. But everyone is still wary, after years of underachievement, that it could go to pot. We were still blowing away the cobwebs in September, after a poisonous few years which we really struggled to rid ourselves of. Our season has come in runs… wins through October and November, poor results over December, and wins since then. It’s left us with a chance, a good chance, and that’s all I wanted. I saw 24 teams fighting for promotion in August, not just ourselves and a handful of ‘big’ clubs - so to be in with a chance of the automatics in late February is a positive.

OM: It feels to me like we are finally back on track. We have passion again in the form of John Terry, Albert Adomah and Conor Hourihane. Villa are flying but thanks to a dodgy run of form coming into the season this really is taking its toll now. It is never easy for a Villa fan as I am sure it is not for the R’s but luck has never come for us in any shape and size. Summing up the season so far in one word would be ‘exciting’. The Championship for me is so much more thrilling than the Premier League this season to watch and to be a part of. You never know which way results will go and that is the superb thing about this league. Highlights for me include the Bristol City game where we smacked our opponents 5-0 at home and of course our second city derby where we were triumphant again. It just needs to continue.

Form looks pretty good coming into this one but a little blip with Fulham and PNE - how are you playing?

GB: We haven’t been playing spectacularly, but who does in the Championship? Our seven-game winning streak looked fantastic on paper, but only really against Blues did we truly dominate. One noticeable difference from previous Villa sides is our character; late wins against Boro, Sheff Utd and Sheff Wed showed a togetherness and never-say-die attitude we simply never saw in recent years. Previously, heads would drop at 0-1, and we’d go into our shells late in games if ahead of level. Maybe it’s the influence of Terry, it’s hard to say, but we’re definitely resilient.

OM: No hiding the fact we have looked fragile without Adomah and Grealish. It takes injuries to realise how much you rely on certain individuals. This Saturday if we set up correctly as we ended against Sheffield Wednesday, we should not have a problem. However, sometimes we make small mistakes tactically which can lead to conceding goals. PNE was dire viewing and our last game at Villa Park.

Fans still seem to be quite restless (judging by Twitter, which we probably shouldn't) is that right? Why?

GB: Everyone thinks their own fans are a different breed. I’ve always said we’re in the category of Everton, Newcastle, Leeds fans – huge clubs with very little success over recent decades. It breeds expectancy, getting very giddy when times are good, and very despondent when times are bad. In short: not much of an in-between. We’ll always get the moaners here, and there are a very small minority haven’t taken to Bruce’s style of play, and who doubt his Premier League credentials if we were to go up. Villa Park can be a horrible place to be a home player we’re 1-0 down; the negativity and a feeling of ‘here we go again’ pollutes the air. So many of our ex-players have said the same. But if it’s rocking, it’s a ground like no other.

OM: I think this is due to the passion. Our club, as does yours (in my opinion) belong in the Premier League. SOME fans jump on tactics, management and club decisions straight after a frustrating performance. We see a lot of negativity and it is often needed to drive the club forward. With our owner being on twitter it allows him to share frustrations and you can tell he uses our voice to stress to the manager and the team around him. Our fans as many others just want the best for our football club I believe.

Player of the year candidates?

GB: Robert Snodgrass, Albert Adomah, and since December, Jack Grealish. Snodgrass is Premier League-quality… you’ll want a couple men around him stopping him getting on his left foot from the right flank – which every opponent we’ve faced seem to struggle with - but he’s also adept at getting to the byline and into the box. He seems to love the Villa and I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed on if we went up.

OM: As mentioned earlier we have had some key names in our side this season. Adomah provided the killer blows to many sides this season as Hourihane netted nine times also. Terry is a rock, you will not want to hear this. The best leader we have had since Petrov. When you hire a captain with tonnes of passion, leadership qualities and true desire to win there is nothing else you could wish for. Personally, although we all know he is a big name and will always get the accolades. JT is my player of the season SO FAR.

Weak links in the side?

GB: Central midfield is sometimes missing; Jedinak, Bjarnason, Whelan and Hourihane rotate a fair bit, and each have their distinct strengths and weaknesses. Jedinak has the turning circle of a bus but can be a beast, Bjarnason once ran around like a headless chicken but has improved since December, Whelan is getting on a bit, and Hourihane has been a good performer. Josh Onomah’s best position is also well up for debate; he’s looked dreadful and promising in equal measure this season. A potential weak link if he plays.

OM: Injuries. At the moment we are dealing with six injuries. IF Albert and Jack both return (unlikely) this Saturday then we will be sorted. Our week links at the moment is setting up defensively in games we must win. Our squad has been a bit all over the place at the moment. It will be interesting to see how we set up. Now, however is the biggest chance of failure with the injuries we have. This has dented our massive win streak in January/February.

Given the spend and FFP, consequences of not getting promoted this season?

GB: Losses were down from £80m to £14m in 2016/17, released recently, which is promising. There hasn’t been much FFP talk of late, and we didn’t take massive spending risks in January.

OM: Huge. We would struggle to keep some key players to our current success. As well as this we may not be able to bring in any talents to cover issues from injuries too. Hard to think about at the moment but if this automatic place is not ours we will not be favourites in the playoffs.

Do you think you'll do it?

GB: I love and hate this question. Love it because it feels well within our reach, and that little fire in the belly gets going when you think about returning to the big time. And I hate it because it’s Villa, typical Villa, same old Villa. I think we’re as likely to finish top as we are to finish seventh. Our run started ten games ago, after a defeat at Brentford which saw fans calling for Bruce’s head. That shows just how quickly a season can turn, and with 12 games left, I won’t be ruling out a collapse or another fine run. You guys know this; the Championship is so, so unpredictable. Three bad results can come in seven days, and suddenly it’s all doom and gloom. To sum up: I’m 50/50.

OM: Yes. We have to believe. I would love nothing more than for us to do it and catch Wolves in the process but that is not going to happen. Realistically we have to beat Cardiff, Derby and Fulham to this second-place spot. If we keep winning games others will choke. Yes. We will do it.

Links >>> Heart of the Holte Blog

The Twitter @GedBrand10, @HeartoftheHolte, @ollie_mason

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Myke added 22:53 - Mar 1
Thanks lads. Not sure I share your optimism - any time I've seen Villa this season they have looked laboured - even when they have won. Not expecting any great drama this weekend mind, 2-0 Villa

TacticalR added 21:24 - Mar 2
Thanks to Gerard and Ollie.

It sounds like things are (slowly) coming together at Villa. In our game at home this season Villa seemed to me to be a big physical Steve Bruce side, relying on power rather than finesse. Perhaps that's enough to at least stay in the play-off positions.

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