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With the Chelsea debacle put well and truly behind him, Billy Grant catches up with Ryan Pitcher from Heart of The Holt (@HeartOfTheHolt) Aston Villa blog about new signings Lansbury, Hourihane and Bjarnason, whether Villa fans have been enamoured by ‘The Brucey Factor’ and if  Aston Villa have got their ‘pub team’ game plan down pat in time for Tuesday’s showdown. 

Last time we spoke (podcast below) you were proper down in the dumps about Villa’s start in the Championship. Have you perked up now somewhat?

I’m feeling perky solely because of the excellent business that we’ve done over the past week. I certainly don’t attribute any of my positive vibes towards the football I’ve had to bear witness to over the past few months – trust me when I say it has been a real slog!

I’m really buzzing for this one to be honest with you Billy. Getting to go and see the new lads in action and what with top scorer Jimmy Danger being back from international duty it should bode for a decent spectacle. Plus – unlike yourselves – we don’t have game over the weekend and that’s a travesty for any football supporter.

Steve Bruce seems to have turned things around. What difference has he made.

This one is a bit of a taboo subject for me as my perspective is quite different to many other Villans. 99.9% of the fanbase are very supportive of Bruce. You have some supporters that will say that we’ve been well organised since he’s come on board. Whereas others, like myself, sway towards the notion that we’ve been wholly unimaginative.

When Bruce first came in, we went on a run where we picked up 15 points from seven matches – for which I wrote at that time that it was more down to luck above anything as we were average at best for the large part.  I did say at the time, if we didn’t start getting on top of our opponents and playing on the front foot then we’d eventually become unstuck – and that’s what has happened as of late.

I’m not sure whether or not you’ve had a chance to see us on the box, but if you have I’m sure you’d know where I’m coming from when I say that our performances have been rather insipid to say the least.

You are the Championship team with the wheelbarrow of cash. What have you been splashing out on recently and have you got value for money ??

Funnily enough as I answer your questions I’m in the midst of writing an article titled: “Value: Are we finally seeing Aston Villa turn a corner?” in which I discuss the switch in supporter mentality between what we saw over the summer to the January transfer window.

In the summer it became more about making a statement because we could do just that what with the arrival of the new owner so we went and spent bucket loads rather than seek out the value.

Interestingly despite spending no more than £9m so far this month (no more than £9m this month … hahahaha .. don’t think we’ve spent £9m in the whole history of Brentford in transfers – Ed) which has seen the arrival of four new permanent signings and United goalie Sam Johnstone on loan, the fans are much happier with this window above any other we’ve had in recent years.

The two main reasons for that is for once, we’re actually seeking to solve a problem. Lansbury, Hourihane and Bjarnason have been brought in to add that extra zip to our midfield – something that we’ve been crying out for a long time. Two central box-to-box players than can push on ahead of Jedinak who’ll play in a holding role. Both Lansbury and Hourihane are confident on the ball both in terms of spreading it and carrying whilst Bjarnason will add some natural width on the left that I’ve bleated on about for what seems like donkey’s years.

Hourihane has the most assists in The Championship with 11. The most tackles with 79. And has scored six goals too so I don’t think anyone can question the value there – £1.25m is an absolute bargain. Although we did only get him that cheap as his contract would have been up come the summer (to be fair, he’s probably on £30k a week though … that’s £20k a week more than our top earner – Ed).

Lansbury looked very composed in the first half on his debut against Preston before eventually tiring which was to be expected – as it was his first bit of action for a little while. He cost us £3m (minimum wage he’s on – £30k a week – Ed). We all saw Bjarnason at the Euros with Iceland scoring against France and Portugal and he’s come in for a mere £1.75m and James Bree aged just 19 will be looking to get in ahead of Hutton at right back, which is a given really and he cost us a further £3m. I mean we can’t really go wrong with that… can we? (transfer fees are irrelevant. It’s the total wage bill that counts – Ed).

We can ill-afford to take gambles on £10m+ men like Ross McCormack only for them to flop at least by doing it how we’ve done it then if things didn’t work out for one of them then there’s a potential for us to at least get our money back and any loss would be very minimal.

In terms of other things going on – it looks like a young lad from Bury will be signing, Jacon Bedeau, I’d be a liar if I said that I knew anything about him. But I suspect he’ll go back to them on loan for the remainder of the season. Jordan Rhodes is a name that has been touted about all window having missed out on him over the summer. If we get that done then that would be incredible (Won his 1st and only ever Championship medal with that mighty pub team Brentford FC – Ed)!

Naturally you must be looking to shed some load. Who’s out the door ??

Well now we’ve added another couple into the central midfield area I suspect it paves the way for at least one or two to depart. I can’t see Tshibola, Gardner and Westwood playing much of a role in the starting eleven between now and the end of the season. Tshibola is the one who has come out and said he wants to leave to find first team football. Bruce will likely keep the other two to keep the squad bulked.

There were also rumours of a Jack Grealish departure for which I reckon was a load of tosh. I do feel for Jack a little bit as he’s a talented young man but a bit of a luxury player that ideally loves playing in the hole. It’s a tough one as playing the lone front man might be seen as a little negative. It’s definitely not something we’d do at home too often and now we’ve got Lansbury and Hourihane,  Bruce is more likely to fill that midfield with steal and energy rather than a floaty technical type.

I’m not saying this disrespectfully. But Birmingham City aren’t very good. And just like for us it would hurt to see a poor F*lham side riding high above us (to be fair to them, this season’s F*lham are decent), it must gall you to see Blues out-doing Villa in the league.

‘Outdoing’ us is a teeny bit dramatic, don’t you think?! I mean they are one point ahead of us as it stands and in absolute freefall. No wins in seven in the league having got rid of the best thing that they’ve had in years in Gary Rowett and I’d be very surprised if they finished ahead of us this season. Blues have always been in our shadows… and that will never change. It’s a little bit different for your lot because if you were to re-wind back a few years, F*lham were streets ahead of Brentford. But you’ve gradually clawed your way back at them and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that at some time in the future you might well be looking down at them just as they did you for many a year.

We’ve just signed a player Florian Jozefzoon from PSV Eindhoven. Apparently he had to play kabbadi as part of his medical as we discussed at length in the Beesotted Pride of West London podcast this week (below). What is the most bizarre thing you’ve ever heard a Villa player do?

Well I think we had our fair share of bizarre behaviours last season! I don’t think the Joleon Lescott tweeting a picture of a super car from his pocket following our 6-0 battering last Valentines Day will ever be beaten. I can’t say I’ve heard anything behind the scenes that’d be amusing. Over the years incoming players have had their initiations with my favourite being Carles Gil doing The Macarena.

As you are probably well aware. Brentford is a club with a pub on all four corners. What you are probably not aware of is .. like any good pub team … one of the pubs is actually used as the players’ dressing room. Can you guess which one?

I was at a pub quiz a few years back and one of the questions was the standard, ‘Can you name the only English football ground to have a pub on four corners?’ A fairly simple question to answer for those who know anything about football. But I specifically remember the quiz master then asking something about a pub being used as a dressing room and the answer was in The Griffin – which I didn’t know.

Whether that goes back a few years I’m not entirely sure but I’d be somewhat concerned if they still used one of the pubs as a dressing room nowadays!

Me personally I’m yet to sample the pubs around the ground as I’ve only ever been to Griffin Park once – totally on a whim funnily enough as I’m based reasonably local in Windsor but only got there just before kick-off. I sat in the Dagenham end for an entertaining League Cup first round tie at the start of the 2013/14 season which saw The Bees snatch a 3-2 win with Farid El Alagui scoring an injury time winner.

Saying that, like a good pub team manor, there are about 15 or 20 decent pubs in the Brentford area (as you can see below) – something we did struggle with when we came up to your place. Every open-minded fan that doesn’t make their main priority at away matches getting a padded seat and shaking the mascot’s hand before kick off, loves it when they come down here. What has been the best awayday for Villa fans (not taking into account on the pitch activities)?

Like we discussed earlier on in the season, my away days are very different to what you experience with Brentford or what the usual Villa following will have more owing to the fact that I reside down south. For most fun loving away day goers it’s a case of just hopping on a train or a mini-bus or whatever with your pals, having a big day out, getting pissed up and then coming home late in the day or possibly the next day even.

The reality for me is that I don’t actually know many Villa fans outside of the Heart of the Holte lads and so I tend to travel to games with whoever wants to go with me – often non-Villa people who don’t want to be hanging around post-match. It’s quite depressing in that sense but you can’t help who you fall in love with, right? At least on Tuesday I have the afternoon off of work and I can go and sample the delights.

As you probably know, Brentford are big on stats. According to our statisticians, we currently have less than 1% chance of going down and less than 1% chance of going up. So that defines how we play out the back end of the season and this transfer window. They have predicted Villa’s chances of going up as “No hope and Bob Hope”. I guess you’re a lot more optimistic.

Nobody – including a super computer – can pre-empt the happenings of football. For us I think we’ve left it a little bit too late to make a push for the play-offs especially as you have to factor in the potential settling period of the new lads. You can’t just go and expect a miracle to happen. We’d have to go on some run. As it stands we’re nine points off. We’ve only won twice away from home all season so that’d have to improve dramatically for starters. And although unbeaten at Villa Park, we’ve had victory snatched from us on so many occasions with late equalisers.

Literally everything would have to go perfectly for us to sneak a playoff spot and that would need to start with a win at Brentford before heading into February’s six fixtures. To have any chance come the run in, we’d need to take at least 15 points from the next 21 and then still continue to win games of football on the regular. I just can’t see it myself.

We enter the Villa match with one eye peeking away from the cup and one eye on the transfer window with the Scott Hogan/West Ham nonsense killing the Griffin Park zen. Do you think Villa will take full advantage?

Well at the time of me answering this question I have yet to see the Chelsea highlights so I’m just hoping that they pulled your boys from pillar to post. In theory we should be fresher than your and have the impetus seeing as though we’ve got our star striker back along with all the new boys that we’re hoping will give us that extra oomph we’ve been crying out for. Neither side go into this one in form mind and, as you say, you’ve got this Hogan debacle – as it stands – still hanging over you.

By the time we kick-off on Tuesday evening he might well be gone. In an ideal world, all this would have been done a little earlier in the window so at least Smith and his team could go and recruit sensibly and not potentially held to ransom late on. I’m hoping that we can take full of advantage of your gloom but more so that our players derive extra energies from the feel good factor that we’re now experiencing.

It’s difficult to predict how we’ll line up exactly. We’ll either play a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 – probably the latter especially if the new boys take their place in the team. Jedinak to hold with Lansbury and Hourihane ahead of him, Adomah on the right and Bjarnason on the left with Kodjia restored up top.

Or Bruce may go with Kodjia on the left and start with Gabby up front. James Bree might get the nod ahead of Hutton at right back.

Defensively we’ve actually been reasonably sound to be honest with you – especially with Chester and Baker central. If I were Brentford I’d be looking to exploit our left side – what with Amavi’s inability to defend properly. He gets beaten far too comfortably time and time again for my liking. There’s nobody specifically that you should keep tabs on as this is likely going to be a new experience for us even. Obviously Kodjia is the main man. But the new signings should be looking to impress so I’m expecting us to be much livelier than what we have been.

Score prediction
I’m riding this wave of enthusiasm and will stick my neck out and say 2-0 Villa.

Billy Grant


For Villa fans coming down, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming.

There are now only three pubs around the ground, following the closure of the Royal Oak.

The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal is the other option.

Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other .. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.

The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields (it’s a much better pub crawl route getting off at Northfields than South Ealing) before making your way down to the ground (normally stopping off at The Globe and Lord Nelson en route).

There is also a pub right by Brentford station always referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.

For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman can probably hold 15 of you at a push. The Brewery Tap is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait right on the river – beside the bridge – and The Express Tavern – a good olde fashioned ale boozer. There are loads more too.

A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.

Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Rd (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.

You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on New Year’s Eve on the tube and Overground.