Villa are just seven points above the Championship relegation zone after they extended their winless run to nine games in all competitions following a 3-1 defeat to Barnsley at Villa Park on Tuesday – their second home defeat in a matter of days.
Tom Bradshaw’s fine double and Adam Armstrong’s first-half penalty won the game for the rugged Tykes, who are just six points behind the play-offs.
In contrast Villa, who have spent over £60million this season as they aimed for an immediate return to the Premier League, are 19 points adrift of the top six.
Bruce said: “The reason why we’ve got one of the biggest wage bills in the Championship is we’ve got to deal with that mentality and expectation. That’s why they get paid more than anyone else in this division.
“I’m convinced they are made of the right stuff and can get better, and it’s my responsibility to make them better.
“There’s been big change at the club for too long. It’s tough to come in here (the press conference), tough to do the television but that’s what it is. But it’s now time you show your balls.
“It’s the best and biggest club I’ve had in 20 years in management and arguably the toughest one to turn around. Given time I know for a fact I’ll do it.
“It’s difficult but that’s when you show your mettle, roll your sleeves up, batten down the hatches and get ready to try and ride the storm – because there will be.
“Every man and his dog will have their say but I’m determined. I know what’s required in this division, I’ve been around it long enough.”
When asked if he was concerned about being dragged into a relegation scrap, Bruce said: “I don’t fear that but you can’t dismiss it.”
Armstrong opened the scoring after 25 minutes when Jordan Amavi felled Marley Watkins before Bradshaw’s clever flick made it 2-0 just before the break.
Jonathan Kodjia immediately made it 2-1 but Bradshaw restored Barnsley’s two-goal lead after 58 minutes when he seized on poor Villa defending.
He said: “We use the fact we’re a small group of players, staff and have a small budget as part of our power and what we are. This is us, what we’re given, and how we’re going to excel.
“What can we do better than everyone else? We don’t shy away from what we’re short of, but what we do is use that to work out to how to bridge the gap.
“We had to work really hard for that. I think we had to show everything. We’re an aggressive team, we don’t play with any fear.”