Aston Villa starting to stabilise ahead of Norwich City clash, as spending pays off for Steve Bruce

Steve Bruce replaced Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa in October. Picture: Simon Galloway/PA Wire

Steve Bruce replaced Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa in October. Picture: Simon Galloway/PA Wire - Credit: PA

As thoughts return to Norwich City's play-off hopes, DAVID FREEZER looks back on a tumultuous season for Saturday's improving opponents Aston Villa.

James Chester has featured regularly for Villa since signing for around �9m from West Brom. Picture:

James Chester has featured regularly for Villa since signing for around �9m from West Brom. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The search for stability may well be coming to an end for Aston Villa ahead of Norwich City's trip to Villa Park – for a clash of two clubs with much in common in recent years.

While the Canaries made a promising start to the season, the Birmingham club's wealthy Chinese owner Dr Tony Xia brought his axe out early, bringing an end to Roberto Di Matteo's reign after 11 games.

At the time Villa were 19th in the Championship and just two points better off than the bottom three and Norwich were second, two points behind leaders Huddersfield.

In came a man who many Canaries fans had hoped would make a Carrow Road return last summer: former City captain Steve Bruce.

Former Norwich loanee Henri Lansbury, pictured being tackled by Huddersfield's Aaron Mooy, was signe

Former Norwich loanee Henri Lansbury, pictured being tackled by Huddersfield's Aaron Mooy, was signed from Nottingham Forest by Villa in January. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Fresh from guiding Hull City to promotion via the play-offs before falling out with the Tigers' owners – the fourth promotion to the top flight of his managerial career – the former Manchester United defender took on the Villa challenge.

For a club that has won seven First Division titles, seven FA Cups and the 1982 European Cup, recent seasons have been little short of embarrassing, with plenty of off-field acrimony to add to the mix.

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After 28 seasons at English football's top table, Villa were expected to be strong contenders for an immediate return to the Premier League.

Over £50million was reportedly spent on nine players last summer, including Ross McCormack from Fulham for around £12m and Jonathan Kodjia from Bristol City in a deal worth up to £15m, and centre-back James Chester for around £9m from West Brom

Jonathan Kodjia has scored 15 goals for Villa this season. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

Jonathan Kodjia has scored 15 goals for Villa this season. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The sales of Scott Sinclair, Idrissa Gueye and Ciaran Clark helped to bring the net spend down to around £30m but Bruce persuaded Dr Xia to get his chequebook out again in January.

In came another seven players for a reported £25m, including Scott Hogan from Brentford for £9m, Conor Hourihane and James Bree from Barnsley, full-back Neil Taylor from Swansea and Nottingham Forest captain Henri Lansbury.

That was tempered by around £15m from the sales of Rudy Gestede, Jordan Ayew and Ashley Westwood but still bumped the net spend for a squad which is almost certainly not going to make the play-offs to around £40m.

With eight matches remaining, they find themselves meandering in mid-table, 11 points from the play-offs and 11 from the relegation zone. Championship mediocrity personified.

However, after all the upheaval, Bruce has finally started to find some stable ground.

The 56-year-old initially enjoyed the usual honeymoon period and picked up seven wins from his first 11 matches in charge.

Hopes of a play-off push came down with the Christmas decorations though, with a run of nine matches without a win which featured seven defeats.

With the January purchases settling down, that miserable run has been consigned to the past though, with a run of five wins in their last six matches.

Bruce realises a play-off place remains unlikely but isn't ready to give up yet.

'It's a tall order for us – but for sure we won't give up,' the Villa boss said in an in-depth interview with his club's website ahead of Saturday's clash.

'The thing that disappoints me is that I wish we were just poor in January rather than awful.

'I believe a poor run would have been five or six points – add that on to where we are now and there would have been a few teams looking over their shoulders and thinking 'can Aston Villa come with a run?'.

'The most important thing for me is Aston Villa progressing – the club progressing, the team progressing and the new lads progressing. We need everything to bed in. There's a good spirit and togetherness, which is important.'

Steve Bruce's Aston Villa record

P26 W11 D5 L10 Pts38 (of 78)

With the Canaries still in with a chance of the play-offs, with five points to make up in their remaining eight games, it is a match in which victory could provide a promotion launchpad.

Just five of the players who featured in the first fixture at Carrow Road, which City won 1-0 thanks to a Nelson Oliveira goal, started Villa's 2-0 success ahead of the current international break.

Predicting what will happen when the teams clash for the second time this season will not be easy but stability is something the Canaries are clearly in need of.

Winning successive wins under interim boss Alan Irvine would certainly be a step in the right direction on the pitch, as fans continue the wait for a sporting director and head coach to arrive.

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