Tom Jolliffe* cannot see beyond an away win at the Stadium of Light tomorrow. At least he applies a neat sense of humour, and traces of sympathy, to his asnwers about our plight and his club Aston Villa’s buoyant current state and longer-term prospects (which should not, in his view, include much room for Lewis Grabban beyond the Championship). And however controversial this will be, Monsieur Salut thinks he’s closer to being right than wrong in his assessment of Steve Bruce …
Salut! Sunderland: good season, some fine football by all accounts. Playoffs or automatic promotion?
Tom Jolliffe: I think we need to be looking for automatic. If we can get Grealish and Adomah back ASAP, we can go on another run. I still think Wolves can be caught but I feel we’ll just have that bit more quality to see us get past Cardiff.
John Terry is an obvious star of the side but who else has been shining?
Terry has been excellent. It’s been a while since you could look through a Villa side and pick more than one or two solid performers. Johnstone is a really good keeper. Hutton has been consistent. Jedinak when he plays. Hourihane and Adomah have done very well. Snodgrass is superb right now. He’s too good for the division. Grealish is the best player in the division, but we need to see him on the pitch, not the sidelines. Whilst JT has shone, he’s also been a good partner to my current pick for player of the season, Mr James Chester. He’s Mr Reliable. A classy defender. You very rarely see him have a bad game. And to be fair to him, he’s dug Terry out of a few holes this season too.
Steve Bruce’s baggage means our fans often forget he gave us our only top half finish since Peter Reid. What’s your assessment?
I like Bruce. As a man it’s hard not to like him. He’s had a mixed time with our fans too because he doesn’t play open attacking football for the most part. We have been really bad under him in games. There’s no hiding from that. What he has shown, which we’ve not seen since O’Neill (the two are similar to be fair) is that he’s capable of a good run. Granted, like every manager we’ve had in recent years he can go on a bad run too, but it’s the good run part which is important, and that’s why we’re at the right end this season. I should also say after recent events in the Bruce family, Steve’s been a credit to himself and them. He’s had a really tough time but he’s done himself and the club proud.
And what will it take to ensure you stay up if you to get back to the Premier League?
I don’t think it’s as simple as just spending £50m in the summer. We know that doesn’t always work. We did that the year we went down. I would try and keep Terry another year, keep Snoddy and Johnstone, then look at who we can add to give us a Premier League level spine. A striker will be important. Kodjia can do it. We have to be a bit brutal in some cases though. Hogan isn’t Premiership quality. Grabban looks good for us, but signing him permanently shouldn’t be in our thoughts. He won’t make the step up.
Best players you’ve seen in Villa colours or wish you’d been around to see?
Yorke, McGrath, and on their day Carew and Dalian Atkinson.
Who have been the glaring duds?
You could look at almost everyone we signed in the last couple of years of Randy Lerner’s reign. Utterly dreadful, almost to a man. Lescott takes some beating, and Micah Richards has also been shocking.
Best and worst times as a fan?
For me, the best times were Big Ron and Brian Littles eras. 2nd in the table, 4th in the table and two league cups between them. The worst have been the two FA Cup Finals where we didn’t show up, and the entire relegation season was thoroughly depressing.
Birmingham fans sometimes say you are our Newcastle, snooty towards them with thoughts above your station. What’s your view of the rivalry?
Birmingham fans say a lot of things. Reality rarely comes into the equation though.
Did you see our steep decline coming?
Yes. Like ourselves, it’s like seeing a hole in the bottom of a boat and doing nothing about it. Then you just push yourself out to sea and hope for the best. Inevitably you sink.
Any other thoughts on us: the club, fans, city and region, Chris Coleman?
Region is interesting right now. You look at the North East and the Midlands. In football terms it’s not great. The Premier League sides are struggling. Villa and Wolves are doing well in the Championship but it’s the Championship. I look at Sunderland right now and I’m 100 per cent sure we’d be in your position if Randy Lerner was still running the club. It’s a shame to see. I’d much rather see it happening to Newcastle. I like Coleman but he’s in a position where he’s got one hand tied behind his back, and he’s only ever been an average manager at best especially at club level.
Dwight, SuperKev, Hutton and many others – which player who has represented both clubs stands out for you?
I’ve a soft spot for SuperKev. I kind of wish we’d kept him a bit longer. He just didn’t fit into the O’Neill striker mould. Big bastard or speed merchant. That Kev kept going until almost 40, and was scoring goals, is testament to the sort of pro he is. Hutton is one of my favourite Villa players at the moment because what he might lack in quality, he makes up for in pure determination. You never get less than 100 per cent from Hutts and he was one of only a few who could hold their head up the year we went down.
Hands on heart, where will our clubs finish this season?
I can’t see you guys getting out of this hole. You need to go down, hit the self-destruct, pick up the pieces and start again. Then pray you’re closer to Man City’s turnaround than Leeds. It’s so easy to end up like Portsmouth so you better keep your fingers crossed.
The Dele Alli question. Does diving matter a little as Pochettino seems to think?
I know we all keep looking at it and blaming foreign imports for diving but you look at recent years and the best divers in the top flight tend to be English players. It’s sad but I think it’s part of the game. You use whatever is at your disposal, or what you can get away with to win.
Is it any different than strikers like Shearer or Kevin Davies and the way they’d knock defenders around? They always walked that tightrope between legal play and outright fouling and had this rare gift of doing a lot when the ref’s attention was elsewhere.
By the time the ref turns back, Shearers got his half a yard and is then putting the ball in the net. It’s a pain when someone dives and gets a penalty against you but call me fickle, if I’ve ever seen one of our boys do a triple somersaulting swan dive to the floor at a nat’s fart worth of contact, I’ve almost nodded approvingly…almost. FWIW, Alli is overrated. But that’s part and parcel of being a decent English player. Talk of Real Madrid etc is just fanciful. He’s good, but Bale is a different level I think.
Will you be at our game> What will be the score?
I won’t be at the game. I’m a Home Countries Villain and I’ve got an early start Wednesday morning. I can’t see past a Villa win. We’ve got to be winning games like this if we want to go straight up.
* Tom Jolliffe on himself: I’ve been a Villa fan for almost 30 years now. I’m married and have a 15-month-old girl who, unbeknown to her just yet, will be a Villa fan. My day job is in formal menswear. That aside I’m an aspiring film-maker. I shot two short films so far this year and have three due out this year. Last November I somehow blagged myself a job as head of UK casting and location manager on a Thai feature film. A bit like how Tim Sherwood blagged himself the Villa job that time. That being said, I had a better end result than he did. In the next year there’ll be more films, hopefully a step on the property ladder and McGrath willing, a promotion to the Premier League. Like the Villa too I’m under Chinese ownership as my wife is from China.
Interview: Colin Randall