Steve Bruce’s underdogs have been straining at the leash ahead of the Championship play-off final, so much so the Aston Villa manager was forced to cut short training.
A mini-match during Tuesday’s session was in danger of getting overly competitive, with four days still to go before Villa’s Wembley showdown against Fulham, who the bookmakers have made favourites.
Bruce pulled the plug on the “feisty” encounter but it was a pleasing sight to a man well versed in what happens in the build-up to big matches.
“I used to say when you can smell the hot dogs there’s a big occasion around the corner. On Tuesday I had to stop training early because they were champing at the bit – too early. It got a bit feisty to say the least,” said Bruce.
“It was very, very interesting. It’s not a bad sign. I’m not against it at all. It’s normal. We just stepped in and cut it a little short – shall we put it that way. And I hadn’t even revealed the team then.”
Bruce has since picked his starting line-up, going against protocol due to the magnitude of Saturday’s match.
“Usually in the past if you’re preparing for a big game and you know the team on a Tuesday – if I wasn’t in it then on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I’d have a face like a slapped arse. So for preparation in a one-off, it’s important in the preparation,” he said.
💬👊Â Steve Bruce on @Elmo27...— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) May 23, 2018
"The next 24-48 hours are crucial. He's trained the last two days. He could be in contention. We'll make a decision on Friday"#PartOfThePride #AVFC #ItsTimeToRoar pic.twitter.com/OOvOtGwQf7
“But the substitutes can be match-winners too and I think the players have understood that. That’s why we’ve done it this time.”
One man sure to be in Bruce’s team is captain John Terry. The central defender turned 37 in December but his impact at Villa has been significant since making the emotional decision to quit Chelsea on a free transfer last summer after two decades of service.
“He has been vital,” said Bruce. “For me (Jack) Grealish has looked to him and thought, ‘God, if I’ve got to be like that to be a top player…’ and that’s what we brought him in for. Not just to win a game on a Saturday, but his overall…and he has never let us down.
“I just knew what he would give. Let’s be fair, he has been one of the great defenders of our country. He is a great leader of men, which we don’t produce many of any more. In a quiet way, he is not a ranter and a raver, he is not one who puts heads through doors. He is calm.”
Victory for Villa at Wembley would have more significance than sealing a return to the Premier League after a two-year absence, it could also see Terry extend his stay at the club beyond the initial 12-month contract he signed.
Terry and Villa have a mutual option to trigger another one-year deal. Bruce said: “I really genuinely hope he triggers it. Yes, perfect. Absolutely.”