STEVE BRUCE incurred the wrath of his fans again as his side failed to beat Boro – despite Villa old-boy Adama Traore being sent off after FOUR minutes.
Villa played with a man advantage for an hour after Traore – who left for Boro following Villa’s relegation two seasons ago – was dismissed for an early lunge on Conor Hourihane.
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But the hosts could not break Garry Monk’s stubborn side down and lost a man of their own when Henri Lansbury was dismissed for an ultra-cynical foul.
It left Bruce feeling the heat once more with his under performing side winning just one of their opening seven league games and languishing in 19th place.
Bruce needed a win here after coming under fire again from fans following a poor display against Brentford at the weekend, where Villa mustered just one shot on target.
The former Sunderland chief is closing in on nearly a year at Villa Park yet not a lot has changed since Roberto Di Matteo’s axing.
The team are still labouring to nearly any victory they achieve – which is not very often, with Bruce winning just 18 of his 44 matches in charge – and the style of football has been uninspiring to say the least.
But Villa were given a golden opportunity to grab their second league win of the campaign here when Traore was given the earliest of early baths.
The fleet-footed winger was never really given the chance to impress during his Villa career – where he failed to make a single league start – and the same could be said for his return.
Traore lasted just four minutes as he was given a straight red for taking out Hourihane on the touchline.
The replay suggested there was no malice intended as Traore attempted to close the midfielder down but on the wet surface it was ill-judged and saw him clatter through the midfielder.
Having booed him from the off, the Villa fans bayed for blood, urging ref James Linington to brandish the red card while Hourihane received treatment and Traore – to his credit – tried to check on him.
Eventually the gleeful home fans got their wish as Linington, after consulting his assistant, reached for his back pocket and sent Traore back down the tunnel. Traore’s recklessness was an unexpected bonus for Bruce.
But now the pressure was really on the 56-year-old, as playing against ten men for virtually the whole game, his side simply had to win.
And it was telling that the best chance of the first half actually fell to a Boro player just before dismissal, as Ben Gibson’s header drew a smart save from Sam Johnstone.
It took Villa 16 minutes to fashion their first half chance as the returning Mile Jedinak headed easily into Darren Randolph’s arms from Hourihane’s cross.
Villa began to dominate possession and carved out the odd half chance, with debutant Robert Snodgrass firing low at Randolph and Hourihane firing over.
But Garry Monk’s Boro backline picked up four clean sheets in their six league games prior to this and were always going to be tough to breach.
Birkir Bjarnason should have done better when he rose to head Snodgrass’ corner at the back stick but under pressure he diverted the ball over.
When Snodgrass’ free-kick failed to trouble Randolph just before the interval, Bruce knew changes were needed as he walked in for a half-time re-think to the sound of boos.
And the ex-Hull boss made two subs before play resumed for the second period, introducing Albert Adomah and Scott Hogan for Jedinak and the woeful Bjarnason.
The changes almost reaped fast rewards as Adomah crossed in, Randolph spilled into the six-yard area where Snodgrass walloped a shot which cracked the bar and somehow bounced away to safety.
The frustration was getting to Villa but it was no excuse for what Lansbury did next.
After Hogan had mishit an Ahmed Elmohamady cross, Boro countered through sub Johnson who galloped up the pitch only to be brought tumbling down by Lansbury’s lunge from behind him.
The challenge was so cynical that Linington believed he had no choice but to issue another straight red – and Lansbury could have no complaints whatsoever.
With 20 minutes to go, Bruce threw the last roll of the dice, bringing on star striker Jonathan Kodjia for his first senior appearance since recovering from a broken ankle.
And the Villa chief will have been tearing his hair out as Kodjia’s bullet header was brilliantly repelled by Randolph, only for Hourihane’s thumping follow-up to be denied by his own team-mate Hogan on the line!
Kodjia went close again with a header just over the bar before the Ivory Coast man was booked for a cheeky dive in the box.
No matter what Bruce or his team tries at the moment, nothing is working. And the patience of the Villa faithful, who booed the team off, is wearing thin.
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