Weekend Round-Up: Steve Bruce channels his inner Jose Mourinho

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 30 October 2017, 09:47

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootballLab) looks at Steve Bruce, Steve Cotterill, Steve Lovell, John Coleman and David Flitcroft in his weekly weekend round-up!

Bruce should start Davis

Steve Bruce’s outlook upon his second return to St Andrews as Aston Villa was not dissimilar to that of Jose Mourinho at Anfield.

While his side possessed the more skilful individuals, Bruce was acutely aware that the derby atmosphere would bring the best out of Birmingham’s players. He therefore set his side up with three central midfielders, the emphasis on dropping deep in the first half and stifling any early momentum from the home crowd.

While his tactics led to a roundly accomplished defensive display, with James Chester and John Terry commanding at the back, they also limited his side’s scope for creativity. The second half additions of Mile Jedinak, who nullified the home side’s physicality and Keinan Davis, who gave them a focal point, swung momentum in their favour.

Davis hit the bar with a left-footed shot and Jonathan Kodjia, who was later taken off with an ankle problem, also found the crossbar. It is indicative of the ability in the team that, for that last 15-minute period in which they did show intent, they threatened the goal as much as Blues had during much longer spells of pressure earlier on. That stands to reason that had the manager started Davis alongside Kodjia, who struggled in isolation for much of the game, they might have got more from the contest.

It is understandable that Bruce didn’t want his side to lose this derby game. However, with stronger opposition in Preston to come on Wednesday and his side by no means secure in the top six, he might look back on Sunday as a missed opportunity.

Jota key for Cotterill’s Blues

Up until Sunday, the main reason Birmingham had only scored eight goals this season was largely their poor use of the ball. Their performance in the derby therefore, represented a tangible forward step.

Blues had the lions share of possession and, at times in the first half, they were all over their rivals. David Davis and Isaac Vassell forced good saves from Sam Johnstone, as did Jota, who made a difference to the team’s attacking play.

The Spaniard made his trademark runs cutting in from the right and looked lively throughout, even if he might regret his miss one-on-one with Sam Johnstone early in the second half. Although this is a second game without scoring for Steve Cotterill’s side, failure to do so was down to mixed finishing and good opposition goalkeeping, rather than a lack of creativity or intent.

Jeremie Boga has also looked bright in his substitute appearances thus far. With three industrious players in central midfield, the manager might be tempted to start both Boga and Jota and give them freedom to roam and create.

Given that Cotterill was appointed manager with the team in the bottom three having just lost 6-1 at Hull, four points from his first three games in charge means that his side are at least on stable footing.

Lovell tear you apart

Before Steve Lovell took interim charge of Gillingham, they had failed to score in four consecutive games. In his first four games in charge, they have not once failed to score and bagged three times in Saturday’s win at Rotherham. That victory means they have scored six goals under the club legend, having taken the previous 13 League One games to score the same number. Whichever way we look at it, Lovell has made an instant impact at Priestfield.

Adrian Pennock, another ex-Gills player, was a centre-back, so it may not be the greatest coincidence that he built his side around the defence. He made, relative to the budget, high-profile additions at the back, with honest pro Luke O’Neil joining at right-back, the powerful Gabriel Zakuani signing from Northampton and fellow centre-back Alex Lacey stepping up after impressing at Yeovil.

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Four of the 12 additions he made, we could describe as attack-minded and most were low-cost punts, tasked with replacing the proven creativity of Bradley Dack or the firepower of Cody McDonald. That lack of attention to the attack cost Gillingham, who failed to score in five of their first nine games.

Contrast their insipid conservatism under Pennock with the intent shown at Rotherham on Saturday. Already ahead, we can see that they pushed six men into the opposing half and four men in the box in the build-up to their second goal, which was headed in by Tom Eaves.

The former Yeovil man is not the most effective striker when asked to lead attacks on his own, nor is Conor Wilkinson or anyone, for that matter. As we saw with the hat-trick Eaves grabbed against Southend back in August though, he can be dominant in the air.

While ex-defender Pennock built a team that was constantly worried about looking after it's centre-backs, goalscorer Lovell is building the team that he would have wanted to play in himself. This fresh approach could be just what Gillingham need.

Stanley’s unfinished business

It was a footballing travesty that Accrington Stanley were not promoted during their 2015/16 campaign.

In March that year, Billy Kee had a goal at AFC Wimbledon bizarrely ruled out due to the referee’s half-time whistle. The match finished 0-0, denying the Reds the extra two points that would have seen them gain automatic promotion.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Wimbledon, who had not necessarily looked like contenders for three-quarters of the season, put a remarkable run together. Stanley then hit the crossbar three times against Stevenage on the final day to miss out on the automatics with 85 points, which would have been enough to go up in eight of the last nine seasons. They then lost in the semi-finals to the Wombles, who went on to win promotion despite accruing 10 fewer points.

The subsequent exodus of key players meant that John Coleman needed until February the following season to start building another team capable of mounting a challenge. Now they definitely have it: the East Lancashire outfit have taken 70 points from their last 36 League Two encounters, losing just seven times.

Positive recruitment this summer has allowed them to build on a strong run of form towards the end of last season. Liam Nolan adds tenacity in midfield alongside the ever-stable Seamus Conneely, while Kayden Jackson has already struck up a partnership with Kee, the duo scoring 17 league goals between them. Wide men Sean McConville and Jordan Clark have the capacity to create for that duo at any moment, chipping in with eight themselves.

Some judgement should be reserved to see how Coley’s troops fare in a tricky-looking November, which sees them play all four of their games against top 10 opposition. However, the early signs are that they have a team that could right the wrongs of their 15/16 heartbreak.

Swindon starting to find consistency?

Swindon Town’s early-season form was perplexing to say the least. David Flitcroft’s first move at the County Ground was to add strong, dependable performers like ball-winner James Dunne and conservative right-back Ben Purkiss. Those players would, if not set the world alight, provide some defensive stability that had been missing over the last three years.

In fact, their start was the opposite of what Flitcroft had planned for. They won by three goals away to automatic promotion contenders Luton, immediately after losing by three goals at home to two bottom half strugglers, Barnet and Crawley. Such a wild contrast in performances invited scrutiny into the team’s mental strength.

Those questions though have since been answered. The Robins have now won six of their last nine league games, keeping four clean sheets in that time.

They haven’t blown many teams out of the water, but have been clinical when chances have come their way. Millwall loanee Harry Smith is beginning to come into form after coming back into the squad, the striker marking his return with the winner against Wycombe last week.

The 22-year-old’s re-emergence is timely, with seven-goal man Luke Norris out with a shoulder problem for an unknown period. Left-back Chris Hussey has also been out through injury, but Matthew Taylor is equally adept in delivering crosses and set pieces, impressing fans with two goals in his last eight games.

Swindon are getting stronger in their own box and more clinical in the final third: they are looking more like the durable side they were expected to be from the outset.

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