"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Friday, 30 December 2011


Including the top three moments of the year, as voted by you

2011 has been a difficult year for all concerned at Ashton Gate.  The club started the year trying to edge clear of the relegation zone and ends it in a similar position.  In the intervening 363 days there has been a change in manager, chairman and board, whilst off the field the new stadium at Ashton Vale seems as far away as ever, despite the focus put on it.
The January transfer window is about to open with star striker Nicky Maynard officially up for sale and vultures circling over Ghanaian international winger Albert Adomah.  With losses totalling just shy of £30m over the past three years, there are no guarantees about the immediate future of the club, the squad or the division they’ll be playing in this time next year.

City face a number of key issues as Britain enters a golden year and these are reviewed below, whilst the review then finishes on a positive note, with detail of the three favourite memories of the year past, as voted for by you.

Five Key issues for the year ahead

Staying up: Forget the stadium, the players or anything else for that matter – the most critical issue, driving everything else forward, is survival and retaining the club’s place in the Championship.  Relegation would be a disaster from a financial point of view and from an ability to attract new players in the summer.  It would also put into some doubt the need for a 30,000-seater stadium if crowds were to dip to around 10,000.  No-one should be under any illusion that keeping above water is going to be easy, with any evidence required provided by December’s results that followed the highly promising and exciting resurgence during Derek McInnes’ first few weeks. 

There is an obvious over-reliance on Maynard and Adomah and this is something McInnes has already said he will try to rectify in January.  Too often there is a distinct lack of creativity, with chances few and far between in the last few games.

There is also a lack of cover in key positions. David James is certainly still good enough to provide foundation to a relegation battle but the full back position remains weak on both flanks whilst in the centre, beyond the inspirational (and injured!) Fontaine, the ever-improving Nyatanga and the highly-promising James Wilson there is little else of strength.  Louis Carey is deliberately omitted from this list as injuries are clearly taking their toll and doubts remain as to his ability to make it back at this level.

In midfield there are plenty of wide-men but none other than Adomah create and influence a game as much as they can and should.  Centrally there is a little more on offer, particularly if Stephen Pearson’s loan from Derby County can be extended but as mentioned earlier there is little flair to call upon.  Jon Stead’s return from injury boosts the options up-front and with Brett Pitman chomping at the bit to get his chance there may only need to be one signing to replace Maynard, should he complete a move elsewhere in January.

Keeping the best players (at the right price):  Looking further ahead than the next 31 days, and assuming Maynard departs – hopefully in January for a reasonable fee so the whole issue quickly dissipates – then the focus will move on to Adomah in particular, but also Pitman, Fontaine and Wilson.  It is safe to assume that relegation could cause all of them to depart, whilst Stead, Neil Kilkenny and Marvin Elliott will also be assessing their options.

Summer wheeling and dealing: Regardless of the division City will be playing in, with an incredible 26 players reported to be out of contract in the summer it will be a harsh and immediate test of McInnes’ recruitment and persuasion skills.  The budget will be drastically cut either way and if the core of the side outlined above were to all depart then there could be 8-9 new signings in the first XI setting out in August.

The new stadium:  The bright beacon of hope on the horizon or the millstone around the club’s neck?  Whichever, this needs resolving and with a positive result.  Most of the noises coming from Ashton Gate appear to be positive and indicate the various appeals and hearings are simply hurdles rather than insurmountable barriers.  No-one should be in any doubt that Steve Lansdown is unlikely to hang around for long if the entire project falls through and for that reason alone there should be 100% support behind the plans.

Financial Fair Play:  The losses mentioned throughout simply cannot continue or be ignored.  Losing £11m p.a. over the past two seasons is unsustainable and changes must, and will be made to the playing budget, but a club can only cut so much. 
All of the above issues have repercussions on the financial future state and staying in the Championship is absolutely critical.
All clubs at this level lose, or have to sell, their best players from time to time, it’s a fact of life.  The local rivals from over the bridge are great examples of how you can do that but maintain presence.  Joe Ledley, Aaron Ramsey, Adam Matthews, Jay Bothroyd and Chris Burke are amongst the players to have departed Cardiff in the past few seasons yet they have continued to be a force this season with some shrewd signings.
Whilst long-term there can be no doubt the new stadium is the best way forward for all involved, there is understandable concern amongst some supporters that the short-term success on the pitch has been compromised by the board’s focus on the new site.  However, all businesses must look 5-10 years ahead as a minimum and this is the cornerstone of the master-plan.  Hopefully 2012 can mark a significant milestone in the stadium project with approval and the first land being cleared for building.

Your favourite memories of 2011

To finish on the high note promised, City fans on Twitter and forums were asked to give their favourite memory of the season and these three gems have come out on top:

3) Albert Adomah vs Southampton, Nov 26th:
The visit of league leaders to Ashton Gate came with City on their best run of results of the season and an expectant big crowd packed into the stadium to jeer Rickie Lambert and see if this revitalised City side could compete with the best in the division.

The overall team performance was simply irresistible with Southampton not given a spare second to think.  The number of times the visiting defenders were pushed backwards and forced into passing it along the backline on the edge of their own penalty area signalled the attacking manner and sheer pressure of City’s tactics, whilst in limiting Lallana (named as the best player in the Championship by TheSeventy Two) & ex-Gashead Lambert (also in the Top 25) to just a single half-chance, there was precious little to worry about at the other end.

As good as the team performance was though the individual performance of Albert Adomah was singled out as the truly special memory.  John Salako, reporting for Sky and a winger of considerable note, described Adomah as “unplayable” amongst many other complimentary remarks as time and time again he picked the ball up near on right flank and dribbled and teased his way past defenders.  On occasions he looked to be losing control only to somehow drag the ball back in the opposite direction and find himself back in space.

The goals may have been fortunate that day, with two deflections aiding the 2-0 win, but Adomah’s goal in particular was the richly deserved fruit from the single performance more than any other that has caught the attention of the Premier League scouting network, watching closely following a similarly high quality display at Millwall on Sky the previous weekend.

2) Managerial change, October:
Whilst not wanting to dwell on one man’s misfortune, it was abundantly clear to all at the club that a change was needed after the 5-0 defeat at Blackpool.  The entire club was weighed down with negativity and unrest, whilst attendances were dropping in their hundreds each week.  A number of voters admitted being sad to say it, but Keith Millen leaving the club was such an essential action that it features here.

The challenges facing Derek McInnes & the impact of his arrival have been covered already on this blog, at The Seventy Two and on The HardTackle and many of these issues manifested themselves under first Gary Johnson and then, following Coppell’s brief interlude, his assistant Millen.

The change in the general atmosphere around the club, with seemingly instant positivity and increased support upon McInnes’ appointment showed the right decision was made, probably at the right time.

1)      City v Cardiff, New Year’s Day:
It seems a little unfortunate that the favourite memory of the entire year occurred as the New Year party poppers were still being popped on the Pacific coastline – but it does say a lot about what followed.  City’s 3-0 demolition of Severnside rivals Cardiff last New Year’s Day was voted number one by some distance.

It was partly due to the fact that the previous couple of months had been generally productive with only three defeats in 11, and Millen named manager of the month for November.  This win against bogey side Cardiff catapulted City into mid-table and raised hopes and expectations of a vastly improved second half to the season, perhaps with a possibility of even making a late charge for a play-off position.

It was also partly as Cardiff had maintained an unbeaten record against City for a number of years and fans had often left disappointed from the local derby.  It also helped erase memories of the 6-0 thrashing handed out the previous January – one of the results that ultimately set the ball rolling on Gary Johnson’s departure from Ashton Gate.

Cardiff came into the match near the top of the table and gunning for the title.  Expensive summer loan signings including Craig Bellamy, Jason Koumas and Seyi Olifinjana had boosted a squad already boasting the likes of Michael Chopra, Jay Bothroyd and Peter Whittingham.

In the event the Welsh side were never allowed into the game as a second-minute Brett Pitman goal – his seventh in as many matches – silenced the away fans, already quieter than usual following an early start the morning after the night before.  City never relinquished their control of the match and goals from Lee Johnson and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, the latter particularly sweet with a stunning strike from the player who made his home City debut in the afore-mentioned 6-0 defeat a year previous.

Other chances went astray, notably from Stead and Campbell-Ryce, but in the event a three-goal victory was more than sufficient for around 15,000 fans to go home and sleep off their hangovers in a happy state.

With 2011 nearly over, many will say good riddance.  One could say things couldn’t get much worse next year but there should be some realism that it could.  However, recent performances against Burnley, Millwall, Southampton and Middlesbrough in particular should leave most City fans in good heart and with encouragement that this review next year will be a happier and more positive read.

1 comment:

  1. I can't let tonight go without adding comment. As more than one kind reader has pointed out, there is folly in providing this kind of review ahead of the final days of the year and so it has proven.

    Tonight's win sums up everything that has been seen in flashes from McInnes' City side. Main Southampton blogger Sam Dobson tweeted tonight saying "Amazed Bristol City are so far down the table. Looked class against us home and away. Organised, hard-working with flair in attack".

    This is what some see, this is what needs to become the norm. It won't necessarily make the team promotion contenders but will certainly erase any concerns about relegation.

    To beat the league leaders away from home is one thing. To beat a team unbeaten at home in the league in more than a year, stretching over 24 matches - most of them victories - is truly remarkable.

    Why oh why could just a few more of the matches in between not have even come close to the extreme highs of the first and last matches of the year?


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