Bruce wants Villa response against PNE
Aston Villa's defeat to Preston on October 1 spelt the end for Roberto Di Matteo and opened the door for Steve Bruce to take charge at Villa Park.
Three-and-a-half months on, the clubs meet again in the return fixture, Bruce having overseen an improvement in the Villans’ fortunes.
But of late, results have not gone their way, with Bruce’s men facing North End on the back of three defeats.
One of those was a 2-0 loss to Tottenham in the FA Cup, sandwiched in between league defeats to Cardiff City and Wolves.
It is fair to say that Bruce was not impressed with last week’s 1-0 reverse at Wolves in a Midlands derby, Villa’s away form a worry to him.
“I’ve seen it now far too often when we go away from home,” said Bruce.
“The sheer lack of quality to do the basics right was simply not good enough.
“I thought there were shoots of recovery and then all of a sudden you go away from home and they throw the hand grenade in.
“Some of the stuff we did was just unacceptable.
“We have to get used to what the Championship is and first and foremost you put your boots on, roll up your sleeves and get ready for what is a fight to start with.
“That’s what the Championship is and it’s why it’s such a tough division.
“At the moment away from home we have to seriously look at ourselves and question ourselves because we’re not doing the basics right.”
Villa’s squad is packed, on paper at least, with quality and expensive quality at that.
They spent upwards of £40m in the summer, Mile Jedinak, Ross McCormack and James Chester among their big-money recruits.
Yet Villa are 13th going into the weekend.
Bruce said: “If you haven’t got the mentality, how does your ability come through?
“We all know that we’ve got some talented footballers, but that isn’t enough just to have the ability.
“You have to do the other stuff and do it well in this division. You have to do the basics and if you do that then you’ve got a chance of getting out of the division.
“Just because we’re Aston Villa we can’t just roll up and think that we’ll turn them over, because we won’t.
“That’s the frustration that I bear at the moment. As I’ve said over the years I’m never ever going to criticise any individual.
“But as a group and as a team, what we produced at Wolves is not good enough to get a result in this division, let alone win a local derby.”
For the 2,700 Preston fans making the trip to Villa Park, there will be a familiar face in goal for the hosts.
Sam Johnstone joined on loan from Manchester United at the start of the month, a first recruit of Bruce’s reign.
Johnstone had two loan spells with PNE, first joining two years ago and helping his home-town club to promotion from League One.
He returned for a second stint last January – it was a much shorter stay as he played only four games.