Aston Villa vs Sunderland Who are You?: Bruce’s winning feeling – and baffling tactics


Josh Henwood* was an Aston Villa ‘Who are You?’ interviewee more than seven years ago. Our clubs have fallen on harder times since then though after a lean first season down in the Championship, Villa under Steve Bruce are now challenging hard for promotion whereas we, well, we aren’t.  A warm welcome back to these pages, Josh (check out his Twitter page).

Josh reckons Villa will win. Try free betting if you want a flutter on all sorts of sporting events, including a tasty package on Bayern, Barcelona, Man Utd and PSG all to win their Champions League games on Wednesday …


Salut! Sunderland: a few years have passed since we last met on these pages, Josh. Not been a great time for either club but now you’re pushing for promotion – how do you feel about the way things are going?
Josh Henwood: Yeah I took a look at that post the other day and just marvelled at how our fortunes have changed. But that’s football! In terms of how things are going for the Villa, I’m more positive than I’ve been for years, but we need to get through an injury-fuelled Christmas period by the looks of it which could change a promotion drive into mid-table obscurity!

Steve Bruce has lots of enemies among Sunderland supporters, partly because of his Newcastle links – Mags called him “Agent Bruce” when he was manager – and also for disparaging comments since he was sacked. But he also gave us one 10th top finish and that’s a rarity. How is he for you?
I grew up with Bruce being enemy #1 at Birmingham City so I’ve had plenty of reservations. I feel that he’s been good in providing us structure and a winning feeling, which we haven’t had as a club for years. However his in game tactics and substitutions do baffle us quite often.
And your wealthy Chinese owner Tony Xia is, happily, a Villa fan from Oxford Uni days. A good man with the resources and commitment to get you back up and keep you there?
He’s a man who seems to take pride in being approachable and open with fans, and he’s backing it up with a proper structure, funds and a steady growth plan which is good to see.
Jake: ‘is it to be Coleman delivers?’
Looking at your players, it has the feel of a Premier League squad. Terry, of course, Hutton, Whelan, Hourihane, Snodgrass etc. Who is doing the business and where is strengthening needed?
Our defence is pretty solid with all the players doing a real job for us. In the midfield, we’ve been missing Jedinak in recent weeks and Whelan seems to be a little lost at times. Adohma has been strong in recent months too. We need to boost our strike force over the January window thanks to our lack of fit strikers.
May be a silly question but is there anyone on our squad you’d take?
Aiden McGeady would be one although we don’t really have the requirement for left wingers.
Who has given most pleasure to you in Villa colours. And who, from a long list of past stars, was so good you almost wish you were old enough to have seen them?
Mellberg, Laursen, and Ashley Young – all who I’ve seen as a season ticket holder. Past years would be Mark Bosnich, Dwight Yorke (the Villa years), and Tony Morley (my dad’s favourite player).
Now name the duds!
Oh wow. So many to name. Most of the relegated team for starters. Ones that really come to mind in recent years are Joleon Lescott, Keiran Richardson, Eric Djemba-Djemba, and Emile Heskey!

The man himself

Catch Pete Sixsmith’s wonderful series on the first time he encountered opposing club and their grounds: today – Villa Park …

Your best moments as a Villa fan?
Quite a few to mention here – going 1-0 up in the Carling Cup Final (and the semi-final second leg against Blackburn), beating Liverpool in the FA Cup semi final on my birthday was good too.
And the lowest? Relegation in May 2016 seems the obvious one since the earlier drop to the third tier would be too long ago for you to have experienced
Relegation hands down, to the point where I almost stopped caring during that season as the writing just seemed on the wall.
Sunderland! Basket case? Just a case of painful transition? Your thoughts on the club, the fans, the area?
Never met an unkind Sunderland fan so all are welcome in my book, but know nothing about the area. I think that relegation was looming longer and more dramatically than Villa and it was testament to you guys for refusing to go for so long, but now we’re seeing a greater fall as a result.
Do any past encounters between us stick in the mind for good, bad or amusing reasons?
The 6-1 sticks out for obvious reasons but more so for the fact that I was watching it through a Skype connection through my parents as I was living in Germany that year!
Hand on heart, where will be both finish? 
I had Villa and Wolves for top two before all the injuries, but now I think that Villa should be looking more at 5th/6th realistically unless we can get through the striker less period without the wheels coming off. I’m counting on Coleman to come in and steady the ship somewhat for Sunderland, to the point where you end up just outside relegation (which would be a positive for you guys this year I think, to stop the rot as it were) and relegate Birmingham in the process. You can do it guys! (Please..!)
Your impressions of the quality of play and refereeing in the Championship?
I actually really enjoy the Championship for games and style of play as I find it a little more gritty and more about creating chances than it is about possession, making it more open. However, the officiating is atrocious. Dire. Awful. One of the things that truly makes my blood boil in this league.
Diving and cheating generally: something we should man up and accept (and try to do better) or still a disgrace that needs to be tackled and hard?
Diving seems to be developing into a way to try and exacerbate fouls and prevent injuries, however overt cheating should be tackled hard. Hopefully with video refs and external reviews starting to come in will help this further.
Will you be at the game? What will be the score? 
I’ve yet to decide whether or not to go down (depends on how work goes I suppose!). The new manager factor for Sunderland might make for a buoyant performance, but Villa are on form. A one goal win for Villa maybe? 2-1?
Finally, update us on who you are, what you do and your history as a Villa supporter. Tell me any links you want mentioned.

* John Henwood on himself: I’m a 25 year old former season ticket holder running a Marketing department for a law firm in Birmingham. Born into the Villa so much that my first clothes were a Villa baby-grow, and first game was a drab 0-0 draw with Leicester at the age of 4. I run a twitter page with a few other Villa fans which we update from time to time too @The_Villan_

Interview: Colin Randall

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