A season barely two months old already feels as though it has been running for three times that length, such has been the grind round these parts.
There isn’t a single fanbase where the mood could be described as anything above unsatisfied. Albion, Wolves and Coventry all find themselves in relegation zones, while Villa and Walsall are falling some way below expectation.
After weeks where it felt the area’s managers were playing a game of Russian roulette, Bruno Lage this week became the first to find a bullet in the chamber.
Tomorrow, Steve Bruce will look to avoid becoming the next. Albion’s home match with Luton would appear to represent one final chance to prove he can spark some life into the Baggies and isn’t merely, at the age of 61, yesterday’s man.
There was certainly a time when Bruce represented the future. Getting Championship clubs back on their feet was his stock in trade. He first did it at Blues, repeated the trick at Hull and though his time at Villa has become remembered for the chaotic finish, he still did a lot of important work stabilising a club which had won just four times in 51 matches prior to his arrival, not least helping a certain Jack Grealish find the first consistent form of his career.
At Albion, such magic has deserted him so far. The Baggies were fifth but falling when he replaced Valerian Ismael but rather than reverse the descent he has only succeeded in increasing its speed.
Of course, problems at The Hawthorns run far deeper than the dugout. The club has reached this point through a succession of poor decisions stretching back years, many of them by the current ownership but some by the former.
Yet in the here and now, it is Bruce directly in the firing line and after just eight wins in 31 matches, neither can he have too many complaints. Albion’s squad might have its flaws but it is certainly better than 22nd in the Championship. One suspects the reaction of home supporters to another poor result would be enough to seal his fate.
Lage will never feel the force of an angry Molineux after Wolves acted swiftly to dismiss him following Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at West Ham.
Where Albion increasingly look a club in need of a saviour, at Wolves and Villa the fear is of grand plans starting to stagnate. Both have set themselves the ambitious target of challenging the Premier League’s elite and both are, currently, falling a long way short.
Granted, it’s no easy task. There is a glass ceiling in the Premier League beneath the Big Six and yet it is also true Wolves and Villa have both, for various spells in recent years, sustained the illusion they could one day crack it.
Restoring a sense of belief, as well as positive results, will be the challenge for whoever replaces Lage. The inescapable fact is ever since the Europa League quarter-final defeat to Sevilla in 2020 they have been trending downward. Wolves have scored just 79 goals in 84 Premier League matches since the start of Nuno’s final season in charge.
Barring the odd exception, they have been a tough watch for two years now and while steering the team away from the relegation zone will be the primary aim of the new man, upping the excitement levels is also key in the mid to long term.
It is the same at Villa, where despite a three-match unbeaten run, Steven Gerrard is not yet in a place where he can feel particularly comfortable heading into Monday’s match with bottom-of-the-table Nottingham Forest.
His biggest issue is with an attack which has managed just six goals in the first eight Premier League matches and could not find a breakthrough despite playing nearly an entire half against 10 men at Leeds last Sunday, a performance which sparked some of the fiercest criticism yet of the manager on social media.
Gerrard is not blind to it. Despite insisting his team have turned something of a corner, having conceded just once during their unbeaten run (and that to Erling Haaland), he knows the bigger picture nearly 11 months into his reign is of a team yet to make significant progress.
Misfortune with injuries hasn’t helped, with big summer signings Boubacar Kamara and Diego Carlos both ruled out. Neither has some increasingly questionable recruitment prior to his arrival, with Emi Buendia, Danny Ings and Leon Bailey all still to justify the combined £90million outlay which brought them to the club.
The bottom line is Villa have taken just 35 points from 31 matches since Boxing Day and it is why Gerrard, like Bruce, heads into another weekend with plenty to prove.
When the season remains relatively young there is always the belief one result will be enough to turn things around. We are reaching the limits of that now.
Following a miserable start across the board, perhaps the best hope is for someone, somewhere to do something which reminds us this is supposed to be entertainment.