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Friday, 24 June 2011

Is Neil Kilkenny the answer? Leeds fans have their view

June 24th could mark a significant moment in the history of Bristol City.

Although Neil Kilkenny's signing is not exactly in the league of a Ronaldo or a Tevez, for City fans who have been crying out for a creative midfielder good enough to marshall the centre of the pitch and control games in the Championship, it could be the moment they found their man.

The sheer volume of abusive and sarcastic comments from Leeds fans on the forums, blogs and Twitter feed proves only one thing. They wanted to keep him, and he can't be a bad little player.

I've dug through the vitriol and found a couple of Leeds fans with a more reasonable outlook on life to share their views of the new general of Ashton Gate.

Firstly, Jenny Berry - twitter.com/#!/jenberlufc - a trainee journalist and Leeds United blogger (jenber.wordpress.com) takes this view...

So, Neil Kilkenny.

Good signing for you for sure. I'm really very annoyed it came to this; his contract should've been sorted last year but Bates and Grayson didn't value him enough despite what he brings to the team.

He is extremely intelligent in his play, a footballer who is always thinking of the next pass long before he has the ball at his feet. Sitting deep in the centre of midfield, he collects and moves play forward; small passes, intricate passes and accurate ones. Always wanting to keep the ball on the floor and to play.

He can get sloppy sometimes but he always looks for the pass and rarely plays an aimless ball forward.

Doesn't score enough goals but he's prefers to be the creator, sitting back, making himself an option for someone else.

They're the good bits.

The problem is he isn't a player who gets stuck in. He can't head the ball. He rarely gets into a tackle and even less often wins them. Protect him and allow him to be playmaker and he'll be an asset but leave him exposed and your defence will suffer. He's slow to track back and struggles to find position defensively.

He also whinges, a lot. Which is good sometimes, often he was the only one who looked like he gave a shit but sometimes he made a habit of blaming everyone else for something he could've prevented.

Secondly, Dan Moylan, editor of the Square Ball fanzine - http://www.thesquareball.net/ - offers this view:

Neil Kilkenny is something of an enigma.

On the one hand he’s been part of a Leeds midfield that has been routinely overrun and outfought, especially alongside Howson in a largely ineffectual 4-4-2, leading to a sniggering juvenile characterisation of him as something of a Priscilla Queen of the Desert character, mainly thanks to his effeminate Aussie twang.

Killa can’t tackle; he can’t track back; he can’t head; he can’t shoot; he can even look unfit at times, and it’s this obvious lack of mobility that means he can’t run a game. On balance most people at Elland Road – and most importantly, Simon Grayson – feel he’s very replaceable.

But on the other hand, Neil Kilkenny is a footballer with a footballer’s brain. He thrived when sitting deeper in a 4-5-1, dropping back to pick up the ball from the defence, and making the team start playing. Killa doesn’t panic, and he is a great passer, especially over short to medium distances. You can tell he was schooled at Arsenal; he has a touch of quality about him.

So, while he’ll never be a player that can take a game by the scruff-of-the-neck, Killa would probably do well with an athletic destroyer alongside him, to pick up his slack and do the bits he can’t. He didn’t have that at Leeds, so we often saw his weaknesses exposed.

The most important point to note about Neil Kilkenny is that statistically, Leeds got far better results with him in the side than not. As with many players who have been part of this rapidly evolving Leeds team, we’ll see a better measure of his true abilities now he’s gone.

The apparent similarities with Lee Johnson are striking. Even those amongst the Ashton Gate faithful who always had accusations of nepotism on their agenda must admit Johnson was invaluable in getting us up from League One, and played a decent role in the following season's successes. However, LJ never quite managed to 'make it' at this level, so can Kilkenny take City to a higher level?

The dilemma for Millen now is who plays in the centre of the pitch. Everyone's been crying out for a creative midfielder, but playing a 4-4-2 with Kilkenny included means only one of Skuse, Elliott and Cisse can be in the XI. Our often highly-porous defending last year indicates that could be too lighweight and leave the back four - missing the assuring presence of Stephen Caulker - exposed.

That remains to be seen. What can be guaranteed is that at last City have a midfielder capable of orchestrating the game at the speed he wants it to be played at, and if he can sit in front of the back four and ping quality balls to Maynard (hopefully), Pitman, Albert and the rest, then goalscoring certainly won't be our issue this upcoming season.

Finally, a word for the oft-maligned manager. Millen started his job on the back-foot following Coppell's disastrous short-reign and a commonly held perception of him being a Yes-man or a cheap option. A very decent first season, and a number of good signings have done much to improve his popularity, but doubts remain amongst many and the slightest knock causes floods of negativity.

This is a signing that has been, without exception, welcomed by City fans. Kilkenny himself has admitted that he came to the West because of the job Millen did in selling the club, the city and the future. Forest, Burnley and Hull, not to mention perhaps Leeds, were reported to be offering more money and, dare I say, more chance of promotion this season, but Kilkenny has decided to up sticks and come to Bristol. Well done Keith on a job very well done, and one in the bank against those that say Millen, as a relatively unheralded player and novice manager, can't attract the 'names' to the best club in the West.

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