Sheffield Wednesday v Aston Villa – Steve Bruce looks for Owls to keep their heads in bid to chase down rivals

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SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY chief Steve Bruce has criticised the sacking culture prevalent in English football – and believes that any manager is now only ‘six games away’ from losing his job.

Bruce renews acquaintances with former club Aston Villa in a spicy-looking Championship fixture at Hillsborough this afternoon – six months on from being dismissed from his managerial position at Villa Park.

Adding to the sense of intrigue is the fact that victory today could see play-off chasing Wednesday move within one point of Villa, who currently occupy the final top-six place.

Bruce, yet to sample defeat in 11 league matches in charge of the Owls, has earned kudos for his sterling work thus far and will understandably be afforded a warm ovation when he steps out into the home dug-out today.

By contrast, the reception from the sell-out away contingent is expected to be less favourable, although the north-easterner insists that he can hold his head up high and believes that history will ultimately show that he did a commendable job amid challenging circumstances at Villa.

Despite taking Villa to the play-off final in late May, Bruce paid the price for a slow start to this season when he was sacked in early October following a troubled two-year reign at the club.

Sheffield Wednesday manager, Steve Bruce. Picture: Steve Ellis

Sheffield Wednesday manager, Steve Bruce. Picture: Steve Ellis

Ahead of his final match in charge against Preston, one Villa fan infamously threw a cabbage at him in a disgraceful episode which shocked the football world.

Bruce, regularly castigated on social media by sections of the Villa support in a year which saw him lose both parents in quick succession, said: “The real supporters will support their team through thick and thin.

“There are that many platforms and social media, radio and TV, it becomes very difficult.

“It does not matter who you are; you are six games away from the sack.

It does not matter who you are; you are six games away from the sack. I honestly believe that. Or six weeks or however you want to put it. If you have a bad run nowadays, it is ‘off with your head.’

Steve Bruce

“I honestly believe that. Or six weeks or however you want to put it. If you have a bad run nowadays, it is ‘off with your head.’

“I think people will look at it in a couple of years and say ‘he did not do a bad job.’ I inherited a team that took 16-17 points from the year before. It was one of the worst records ever in the Premier League and they had not won away from home in 18 months.

“The club had to get money in. There was only Burton, Millwall and Ipswich that spent less money than we did in 2018.

“I was one of 40 managers who have lost their jobs this year. We will all say the same: time goes against you in this game.

NOT THIS TIME: Steve Bruce shows his frustration during Aston Villa's Championship play-off final defeat to Fulham at Wembley lasty year. Picture: John Walton/PA

NOT THIS TIME: Steve Bruce shows his frustration during Aston Villa's Championship play-off final defeat to Fulham at Wembley lasty year. Picture: John Walton/PA

“We have seen one at West Brom lose their job and they are fourth from top. It is ludicrous, but that is the way it is and I cannot help it.

“Football managers are like everybody else. If you get sacked in your job, it will disappoint you and hurt you absolutely.”

Despite professing to being hurt by his dismissal, Bruce has stressed that he ‘moved on’ from those fraught final days at Villa.

After being in charge at the start of the season of a Villa side who he firmly expected to be in the promotion mix in the run-in, the 58-year-old finds himself presiding over an unlikely push for the play-offs with the Owls – who were just five points above the bottom three when they axed Jos Luhukay in mid-December.

Back-to-back home games against fellow top-six hopefuls in Villa and Nottingham Forest represent a big opportunity to make further inroads up the table for Bruce’s in-form side, unbeaten at Hillsborough since November 24.

Bruce, who confirmed that top-scorer Steven Fletcher is available after a groin issue, said: “I think they are all must-win games if we are going to be realistic.

“We have to win them all. I am sure there will be one or two twists and turns.

“All we can try and do is what we have done in the last few weeks which is keep the momentum going.

“Unfortunately, we are running out of games. But we still have a chance. It is only a small one, but we must try and keep on going and you never know.”

It promises to be another tense day at the top of the Championship for Yorkshire rivals Leeds United and Sheffield United, who both face tricky away tests.

Second-placed Leeds visit Birmingham City, managed by ex-Whites manager Garry Monk and the Blades, two points behind in third place, go to Preston.