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.
xV: Steve Bruce got his tactics right to win the derby
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.
Share Share xV: Steve Bruce got his tactics right to win the derby tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 11: Steve Bruce manager of Aston Villa waves to the fans during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Birmingham City at Villa Park on February 11, 2018 in Birmingham, England. Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images Hey friends! Welcome back to Expected Villa (xV), a numbers-focused look at Villa’s results and play. The Claret and Blues are Second City Derby winners, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that performance. Let’s dive in.
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 beat Birmingham in derby to maintain promotion charge
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.
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And props to Bruce for making the right call to drop Birkir Bjarnason, who’s good, in favor of playing Mile Jedinak, who’s also good. Jedinak was perfect for this match and he played really well.
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It’s a bit crackly on his car phone as he makes the long trek back from training, but the pride in Lewis Kinsella’s voice is clearly audible.
As a former Bodymoor Heath youth-teamer, Kinsella knows the two young men playing a pivotal part in Aston Villa’s revival better than most.
Grealish, the new darling of the Holte End, and Stevenson, the conditioning coach toughening Jack and his team-mates up for their Championship promotion push.
Slideshow (6 Images)Adomah opened the scoring on the hour with his 13th league goal of the season before Hourihane volleyed his side’s second.
They’re Kinsella’s close pals. Not that he is speaking out of blind loyalty. He is speaking out of genuine respect.
Kinsella met the duo as a 15 year-old and straight away he earmarked the pair, along with Jordan Graham and Callum Robinson, as the best of the claret and blue bunch when it came to future career prospects.
“I was 16 and Jack was 15 when I first joined,” Kinsella tells Birmingham Live.
“I was playing left back and he was playing as a left winger in front of me.
“I think he was fast-tracked to join us because Villa realised the ability he had.
“If you’d have asked me when we were 15/16 what four players were going to make it then I would have said Jack Grealish, Jordan Graham, Callum Robinson and Oli Stevenson.
“Oli’s attitude was incredible. It was clear he was going to be very successful in his career.
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“I’d been at Arsenal and Villa was a different environment, but I appreciated being there.
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“Playing with Jack made me a better player and playing with Oli made me a better athlete and a better person.”
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Stevenson, a cracking prospect in his own right, had to hang up his boots, but kept the tracksuit after illness hampered his progress and prompted his release from Villa.
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A couple of attempts to play non league after he left the club in 2013 were aborted and instead he decided to not only pursue a different path, but to make it his mission to be the best.
His coaching success is not a surprise to Kinsella, who always regarded Stevenson as an example to follow.
“Oli never gave up,” he explains. “He was always determined to come back and be the best.
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“I used to sit next to Oli in our classes at Bodymoor so I could sneak a look at his work and copy!
“I don’t know how I managed to get into the top group, but Oli was definitely the smartest, him and Brad Watkins.
“He wasn’t a nerd, he was just a really intelligent guy, I’m really envious to be honest!
“We used to do coaching badges when we were in the academy and Oli excelled at it.”
Grealish’s quality shone through, long before the floppy-haired teenager became a floppy-haired superstar.
His team-mates would gasp at some of the things he was capable of doing with a football.
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“It was clear Jack would do well on the left wing or as a No.10,” says Kinsella.
“He’s just so naturally gifted with the ball. Any time we did a technical drill like finishing or passing he would always be the best.
“He could dribble the ball down the touchline, literally on the line and the ball would be under such close control at his feet.
“I remember we were messing about in the barn one day just trying to see who could side-foot volley it into basketball hoops there.
There is a chance that, three months from now, yesterday will be looked back on as the day Villa finally put the pain of a torrid few years behind them before kicking on to a brighter future.
“We were standing about 40 yards away and Jack and Jordan Graham would be knocking them through the hoops.
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“I knew Jack would make it, a million per cent. He was just so good. I’m really happy for him because he’s a good pal.”
Next up for Villa is a trip to promotion rivals Fulham, where they will have the chance to match the club’s best-ever post-war league winning streak.
Stevenson has quickly become a valued member of Steve Bruce’s backroom staff this season.
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Rising from an academy role to play an important part in the conditioning of Bruce’s promotion hopefuls.
As a boy he led the way in terms of his immaculate preparation and he has taken his attitude into his fledgling coaching career.
“When I got there at 16 he was the captain and he was a leader even at that age.
“He would make sure he was doing the right stuff for himself and that all the others were doing the right stuff.
“If anyone was going to be successful it was him. He was a proper leader and his attention to detail was brilliant.
“He was a centre half who could play at right back. His attitude was so good, he would pride himself on doing everything he could to prepare himself properly.
“He was a good one-on-one defender, a great communicator, always talking. He could read the game and the club had high hopes for him.
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“But he was taken ill and that opened up a pathway for someone else. His illness made him lose pace and strength and he didn’t get a deal at Villa.
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Regular Grealish watchers will have noted that the 22-year-old has grown in stature and stamina this season.
Even from the outside looking in, Kinsella has noticed the improvements Grealish has made – and credits Stevenson as well as Super Jack himself.
“He’s always had big leg muscles, calves and quads, but when he was younger his upper body strength wasn’t that good,” he remembers.
“Oli has been working with him and he looks more powerful and is driving with the ball.
“The stamina comes with experience because he is learning how and when to use his energy.
“It will also be the regular football, this must be one of the longest runs he’s had in the first team.
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“I’m always rowing with people, telling them how good he is and that he should be playing in the Premier League.
“They say ‘yeah, but his attitude’. He’s now showing that with the right attitude he has all the ability in the world.
Stevenson first joined Villa as an eight-year-old, so his release was a shock to the system – at first.
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He tried out at a few non league clubs, but he decided to go to Lougborough University to do a sports science degree and, with the support of the club, embarked upon a career as a coach.
"He’s from Banbury, so he was going to Loughborough to do his lectures and then driving to Villa to coach the kids teams in the evening and weekends," explains Kinsella.
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"It must have been a blow when he was released by Villa, but when the club offered to support him by giving him coaching opportunities, he really made the most of it.
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"I remember after training sometimes we’d pop to the barn to see him training the kids.
"I think he was with the under 7s, 8s and 9s. It would be great because they’d all be smiling and laughing and he’d have a big smile on his face because the sessions were such fun."
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As for Grealish, the former Witton Lane season-ticket holder is running more, and influencing matches right until the final moments, yet retains the balance and poise to either beat opponents or draw free-kicks from them.
Kicking Grealish is not a new tactic, his academy pals would sometimes resort to foul means to stop him.
But the flopp-haired playmaker is learning to cope with being a marked man.
“As a kid he could trick his way past people, but would get clipped and win free-kicks.
“We’d have to kick him sometimes to stop him, not deliberately, it was just you couldn’t get near him.
“He’d get properly upset. He still has a moan up now when I see his games on TV, but he’s learned to cope with being kicked.
“It’s part of growing up, and I think he gets on with it more now and uses it to drive him on.”
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Stevenson still keeps himself in prime condition and on his own – and the players’ social media channels – can be seen joining in with the strenuous work he demands of Bruce’s squad.
Now 22, Stevenson is a consummate professional and a very engaging people person, earning him the respect of captain John Terry and the senior pros at Bodymoor.
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"He would always be the first in the running, first in the gym, the strongest in the gym, his body fat was always the lowest," says Kinsella.
"He was always pushing himself to do well. His attitude as a 16 year old was unreal.
"Some of the lads would think ‘I can’t be bothered to do those stretches, or to go in the pool’. He’d always do that extra work. Always.
"He’s clearly taken that attitude into what he is doing now because you can see the results with Jack.
"He’s doing it now with senior pros who are older than him, but he’ll have earned their respect.
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"That’s the way he is, he’s got the personality to know how to get the best from people. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for him."
While his close pals try to take Villa back to the Premier League, Kinsella is striving to kickstart his career in non league football with Aldershot.
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It is while on a 90 minute commute from that he reminisces with Birmingham Live about Grealish and Stevenson.
Kinsella is a cracking fella, a lad whose infectious enthusiasm got him to within a whisker of a first team debut at Villa under Tim Sherwood.
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His career has taken a different path from his two good mates, but it is without the slightest hint of bitterness that he wishes them well on their upwards trajectory.
"You don’t realise how great it is and how big a club it is until you’re not there. It’s a great grounding.
"We had to clean boots. I had to clean Charles N’Zogbia and Gabby’s.
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"We’d have to do jobs around the training ground and I remember we had to roll the pitch covers over the pitch at Villa Park when it was snowing.
"With Kevin MacDonald and Tony McAndrew, you had to be disciplined.
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"I think there was a rule that you couldn’t wear coloured boots until you’d made your first team debut, so Jack had to abide by that.
"Jack and Oli are Villa through and through, so it’s great to see them doing so well. They both fully deserve to be where they are and I’d love to see them go from strength to strength."