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Steve Bruce shows the Championship is no mean feat

Tuesday 21st February 2017
Steve Bruce is coming under fire after Aston Villa's loss to Newcastle United on Monday. His struggles show that the Championship is no mean feat.
Steve Bruce was hired October 12th, 2016. It was a sign that the club, after numerous years floundering towards the lower reaches of the Premier League, handcuffed by their owner's unwillingness to invest and plagued by unfounded expectations by their fans, was intent on stemming the downward tide and attempting to rise back to the sweet nectar of the top English division.

That, though, has been far from their reality. Bruce's tenure started brightly. Villa were unbeaten in the first seven games under his tutelage, winning four of them and drawing against the likes of Brighton and local rivals, and his former club, Birmingham City. The former Manchester United centre-half has forged a formidable managerial reputation for himself, especially at Championship and lesser Premier League clubs, and his initial success suggested that Villa would be his next managerial masterclass.

But, since the promising start, Bruce's furrowed brow has only entrenched itself further in an increasingly stress-writhed forehead, with Villa having failed to lose just two of their last 10 games; draws against Leeds United and Preston North End. They now find themselves, after yet another dismal display - a 2-0 loss to league leaders Newcastle - down in 17th, just six points clear of the relegation zone.

Including languishing Rotherham United, who currently preside 15 points from safety and 12 points below the next lowest side, every team in the Championship has won a game more recently than the Claret and Blue Midlanders. And now there are growing doubts regarding the future of the club and Bruce himself.

All of this comes under the cloud of a hugely active transfer market. Scott Hogan was signed in a blockbuster move from Brentford with the intention that he would spearhead what has been a blunt attack up to this point. Birkir Bjarnason was signed from FC Basel, while Henri Lansbury came from Nottingham Forest and proceeded to have a horrible evening against Newcastle, capped off by an awful own goal that ended the tie after failing to clear from a Jamaal Lascelles header when covering the near post at a corner.
Bruce, then, unlike many other managers in the football league, cannot testify that he has not been backed by the board. He cannot claim that the club has not supported him. He cannot even claim that he inherited a poor squad. It was only a year ago that the Villains were enjoying (I admit, that term is relative) life in the Premier League.

Bruce inherited a stable club with - admittedly underperforming - talented players with established facilities. And yet he has only proceeded to manage a sinking ship that could well see yet another Premier League giant suffer successive relegation campaigns into the third tier of English football. Villa now face Derby at home, Bristol City at home and Rotherham United away. They are quickly becoming must-win games for Bruce and his future.

The Championship has long been seen as a tough task, a gritty, challenging league that gives little for free. Well, Bruce, a man who has flourished in such conditions before, is proving that excelling in the second tier of English football is no mean feat.
Andrew Dowdeswell

A sport obsessed 20 something who just really wants Arsenal to finally win the league. Please Wenger, what the hell happened to you?!


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