Can Aston Villa bridge the gap to Newcastle United and achieve promotion?

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By Callum Richardson – founder and writer for Heart of the Holte

Aston Villa and Newcastle are two of the biggest names to grace the Championship in recent seasons and both are bidding for a successful return to the top flight.

Newcastle seem reinvigorated under Rafa Benitez and are the side to beat, topping the table with 46 points so far and putting in some stunning performances. They have certainly staked their claim for automatic promotion. On the other hand, Villa had to go through larger scale changes, with ownership, board and squad all getting an overhaul; the fans however have stayed constant.

The recent trip to Leeds marked the 10th time that Villa have sold out their away allocation this season, an impressive feat given the number of midweek fixtures. Despite this, results have not been as good.

Steve Bruce has already been appointed to replace a poorly-performing Roberto Di Matteo and, even though results have picked up, there is still an evident gap. Here is my take on what Villa need to bridge the gap to Newcastle and improve our chances of promotion:

Midfield Weaknesses

Jedinak has been a stand out performer since his arrival, commanding the players around him and creating a fantastic shield in front of the back four, but he is in desperate need of help. Gardner has shown some signs of form, including a goal in the second city derby, but realistically him and Westwood just aren’t good enough. Tshibola has also been frozen out since Bruce’s arrival, we need a signing or two in January if we wish to impose ourselves on games and dominate. Newcastle have Shelvey, Diamé, Colback and Hayden to call upon and this is the main difference between the two squads. Villa have been solid and in addition have an attacking force which is quite frankly ludicrous for the Championship, yet the connecting link is frail.

Dr Tony Xia has already shown that he is willing to dip into his pocket in order to get his club promoted and Bruce’s recent comments certainly indicate a continuation of this “By this afternoon I possibly could have two, which would be a really good addition to us.”. According to the wild world of football rumours, Carl Jenkinson and goalkeeper Sm Johnstone are the supposed players afore mentioned; these would improve our squad but still leave us lacking in the middle of the park. In the last few days, further rumours have appeared that we are tracking both Robbie Brady and James McCarthy, both would be massive boosts to our squad and chances of promotion. Jedinak and McCarthy would be a nigh on impenetrable barrier in front of the back four and this option could lead to Bruce deploying a highly effective 4-2-3-1 – a formation that would give Grealish the perfect opportunity to wreak havoc in a free role. Whereas, Brady would give us the option to play 3 in the

middle as he is a hardworking box to box midfielder. It’s unknown whether there Is much substance behind these rumours but they would certainly go a long way to bridging the gap to Newcastle.

The African Cup of Nations

Recently, Villa have shown signs of finding the form and consistency needed to achieve success in this highly competitive league, since Bruce came in Villa have found form and the gaffer hit the nail on the head in the build-up to Norwich: “It`s all about finding consistency. Brighton have it, Newcastle have got a bit of it and that`s what you need. We have now lost one in nine but this is a big important month. Norwich won by five last week and lost this weekend so we`ll prepare for that.”. Undoubtedly, Kodjia has been pivotal in our success, as has Adomah and to a slightly lesser extent even Gestede and Ayew have played their part. All four of these talented attackers are set to play for their respective Nations in the AFCON this January and this poses a huge threat to Villa’s recent form. It is quintessential that Bruce finds the solution to this potential stumbling block, be it McCormack, a new signing or even Agbonlahor, we will need bags of goals from whoever he chooses.

With a bolstered midfield, if Villa can ride the wave of the African Cup of Nations without results dipping, there is no reason why they cannot return to where they belong through either automatic promotion or the playoffs. Bruce has a scintillating amount of talent in his squad, it just needs the slightest bit of fine tuning and it could set this league alight.

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