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

Monday, 17 December 2012

Will Hughes: Can we believe the hype?

Every once in a while a footballer comes along who is talked about as "the next big thing".  Even more rarely discussion turns to a potential star of a generation.  Derby County's 17-year-old Will Hughes probably fits neatly into the middle of these often hyperbolic statements, currently careering right down the centre of this most glittering of sparkly roads in British sport.

When you're 17, have just a handful of appearances under your belt but own a reputed list of suitors including both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, you must have something about you.

When you throw in the fact that the iconically masterful Barcelona - possibly the finest club side of the last 30 years - own a dossier on Hughes' performances, you know that this boy can play a bit.  At the very least he can obviously control a football and pass to his own teammates, something mystifyingly beyond the alleged best of England's recent crop of midfielders.

Unfortunately I was unable to take my usual residence on Saturday at Ashton Gate so missed the opportunity to run my eye over this shining star.  Thankfully, Hughes' namesake, Will Jones from the brilliant website To the Left of Ross, was in attendance and returns to The Exiled Robin with this take on English football's new wunderkind:

"Will Hughes arrived at Ashton Gate on Saturday propelled by a gale of publicity.  An England Under-21 international as a 17-year-old in the Championship, and apparently on the January to-buy list of half a dozen Premier League sides, it was hard not to look out for him during the game – a task made easier by his impressive shock of white-blond hair.
In truth this wasn’t a performance that would have had the uninitiated raving about him post-match.  He didn’t stand out as the best player on the pitch, or provide a unique dimension within Derby’s pleasing on the eye passing (first half) and solid defensive (second half) displays.  But I was impressed nonetheless, and I’m inclined to think that his propensity to blur into part of a solid team performance is precisely why.
Derby played a startlingly young midfield 5 – averaging under 22 years of age, Craig Bryson was the grand old man of the group at 26.  Yet all five (Bryson and Hughes plus Michael Jacobs, Paul Coutts and Jeff Hendrick) were comfortable both on the ball and as part of a thud-and-blunder December Football League tie.  Their energy and enthusiasm was testament to their age, but their confidence and calmness tempered this to good effect.  Hughes was perhaps the best example of this.
Unlike many a young player making a name for themselves – Raheem Sterling, say – Hughes isn’t the type to extemporise and attempt the sublime at the risk of achieving the sub-par.  Hughes plays like a man with 250 games rather than 25 under his belt.  He’s happy, for the benefit of the team, to take a single touch and move the ball on, moving his feet at the same time to be ready to receive and make another simple, sensible contribution.  His speed of thought is good, and he regularly popped up to ensure continuity in building attacks and pressuring the home defence – but he wasn’t desperate to be the man getting ahead of play, running the channels or popping up in the box.  He was happy to be a vital part of a solid unit.  At 17, and for 90 minutes, that’s impressive.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay him is that he didn’t seem like a young English player at all.  Maybe  it was just the white jersey, but he seemed like a less developed version of one of those dazzling German CMs of recent years – a bleach blond Sami Khedira, perhaps.  That, I think, is why there will have been scouts at the gate (let’s face it, they weren’t looking at Marv).  This is stuff English players need to learn and rarely do.  It’s the stuff that everyone we lose to has.  It’s the stuff that wins tournaments.  It’s the right stuff, and based on 90 cold minutes Will Hughes has it."

Thanks very much to Will Jones for his time and descriptive words on Will Hughes.

Monday, 10 December 2012

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Joe Morrell

Last week perhaps signalled the start of a bright new dawn at Ashton Gate, and I’m not talking about the remarkable and dramatic victory at Hillsborough.  When Joe Morrell committed his most formative of years to the club – spurning interest from five-time European Champions Liverpool in doing so – the moment gave the club their launch pad to go on the offensive about the investment in the new Academy.

For too many years, millions of pounds have been sunk into an under-performing, unproductive system doing nothing to justify its worth.  Since the class of late-90’s produced the likes of Tommy Doherty, Aaron Brown and Matt Hill, only Cole Skuse has come through and established himself in the first team.  Dave Cotterill & Leroy Lita spent a little time with the Robins before moving on and earning the academy some much needed ‘profit’, whilst recently the likes of Christian Ribiero, Joe Edwards and James Wilson have all threatened the senior squad without ever truly establishing themselves. 

The club have spent the last year talking up the improvements Derek McInnes has instigated.  No wonder – pay-offs of existing staff members allied with relatively expensive new salaries within the greater coaching and support teams, no doubt contributed to the recently announced financial losses, along with the new training facility being built at Filton.

However this week, the ball of momentum appeared to start rolling.  The signing of Morrell was lauded by the club and seen as the first step towards justification for the changes made, with the club citing the clearly communicated objective of becoming a Phase II Academy, the new training facilities, and the new coaching staff as giving Morrell the incentive he required to ignore his big-name suitors.

I caught up with Joe this week, and asked him about his new deal.

Well I’ve got to start with “Congratulations” on the new deal, how pleased are you to be able to commit to another couple of years at Ashton Gate?
“Thank you very much.  I’m really pleased to have signed the contract and looking forward to now concentrating on my football.”

I asked Joe about the interest from Liverpool, and why he chose City over the Merseyside giants? I also noted that the club seemed more dedicated to providing youth with its chance in the future, something that hasn’t necessarily been the case over the past few years, and whether that played a big part in his decision.
“I don’t want to talk about it [the Liverpool interest] too much, but I can say that I was very close.  It’s not really about turning Liverpool down, it was about me seeing the plans for the academy and players such as Joe Bryan and Bobby Reid in and around the first team squad that makes Bristol City an exciting place to be for a young footballer.  Really it was the plans for young players that Derek McInnes and Willie McStay had explained to me.”

Your deal signalled a strong message from the club that it was a sign of progress within the “substantially revamped” Academy set-up, a pointer in the right direction.  There have been movements in the coaching staff – and you recently moved to the brand new Filton training complex – but have you, as players, seen improvements and changes across the Academy?
“The academy has always has always had a good setup.  My current U16's coach, Dave Horseman, is brilliant but yes, the new facilities and Willie coming in have made it a good place to be.”

I then asked Joe about his style, the level of contact he and his teammates have with Derek McInnes, who else we should be looking out for in the youth set-up.
“I can play either holding or attacking midfield, I work hard for the team and try to get on the ball as much as possible. Xavi of Barcelona is a player that I really aspire to be like.  There are some really exciting players in the academy setup at the moment, but Jack Batten is one to really look out for.  Derek doesn't tend to have much contact with us you can see his influence in the way that we play, and he was really involved in my contract talks.”

You’ve played for Wales in the Victory Shield, clearly impressing a number of good judges – what  was it like pulling on the international shirt for the first time?
“It doesn't really get much better for a young player, especially then to go on and captain the team this year, a very proud moment indeed.”

Joe spent time at former Bristol Rovers midfielder Jamie Shore’s Soccer Academy, a set-up outside the professional club ranks, promising to train and educate young footballers in the style Spanish and Portugese young footballers are brought up.  There is a view that this could be the future, getting youngsters to ‘footballing’ academies before they join clubs so I asked Joe whether he felt this time had benefitted his career thus far?
“I really enjoyed my time at Jamie Shore and Paul Taylor was an excellent coach.  It gave me the chance to play abroad and taught me lessons on and off the pitch.  There are a few former Jamie Shore lads at City and [England goalkeeper] Jack Butland was there too.  However I felt it was the right time to sign for City when I was twelve but I would not be the player and person that I am now without Jamie Shore.”

What are your ambitions in the game, and where do you hope to be ten years from now?
“I want to be playing to the best of my ability and still be enjoying my football, the rest will take care of itself.”

And finally, when you Google ‘Joe Morrell’, ‘Joe Morrell Soccer AM’ comes up high on the automated list – care to talk us through why that might be?
“Ha ha, well earlier this year I was due to go there just to be part of the audience and then found myself sitting on the famous orange sofa next to Helen Chamberlain and Max Rushden.  I was very surprised and I still can’t believe that I missed my first attempt at getting the ball through the hole!”

Joe, thanks very much, and I along with all City fans wish you all the luck in the world with your future career – we can’t wait to see you in the first-team!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Please read: The story of Big Stan Hibbert and a Onesie

I have never posted on behalf of anyone raising money on this site before, and I may never again.
Generally promoting one person's campaign leads to multiple future requests and a relentless stream of runners, baked bean bathers and Kilimanjaro climbing crusaders asking you to do the same, making you (unintentionally) feel guilty enough to continue posting pleas for extra money.
However, this one has caught my eye for two reasons.  One it's for a particularly personal cause and one which, I imagine, doesn't necessarily receive big cheques (or electronic transfers I suppose in this day & age) very often.
Secondly, it's because a member of the #bristolcitytwitterfamily who goes by the name of Big Stan Hibbert, is going to wear a Onesie!
For the uninitiated of you, a Onesie is like a baby-gro.  I've got plenty in my house, but they're all in 6-12 month age groups and are a bugger to undo when my Junior Robin's nappy needs changing at 2am.


The sight of grown men & women struggling to stumble out of their outfits whilst half-asleep in the middle of the night sounds like something out of a Some Mother's do 'Ave 'Em sketch, but apparently it's the in thing at present...sometimes I'm so very very glad I'm in my mid-thirties and lacking the motivation to keep up with the Joneses!
Anyway, this one particularly struck me because anyone whose Twitter moniker is 'Big Stan Hibbert' sounds like they fancy themselves a bit as a man's man.  Indeed, when you probe further and come across his profile "I own a gorgeous wife and 2 kids that I'm aware of", that picture is crystallised even further.
So for 'Big Stan' to front up at football, the ultimate in a man's macho world, where swigging too much cider at lunchtime and shouting horrendous abuse at other human beings is commonplace and seen as earning stripes, wearing just a Onesie and perhaps a cheeky Santa hat, understandably caught my eye!

Here's Stan to pick up the story...
"It started off as a bit of banter on Twitter. “I’m going to buy a Onesie” I said.   Now, a few weeks later and I have acquired said Onesie. Not only that but I have agreed to wear it to the pub and to Ashton Gate on 1st December 2012. The reality of this dawns on me a little bit more every time I write it down. I’m not the sort of bloke who would normally wear a Onesie, let alone in public, so this is a big deal for me! It is all for a brilliant cause though - the Barbara Russell Children’s Unit (BRCU) at Frenchay Hospital.
In 2011, aged 6 months my son Reuben was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus (water on the brain). He was having regular treatment and scans and then one Saturday afternoon, when City were at home to Leeds, I received a call from my wife at about 3.20pm saying that I needed to get to Frenchay quickly.  
Reuben had developed complications relating to his condition which had made him seriously ill.   To cut a long story short, I have never felt so frightened and useless in all my life and I have no doubt that the staff at the BRCU prevented anything tragic happening. 
For a while afterwards, Reuben remained at the BRCU and the level of care the staff provided was inspiring. I am thrilled to say that Reuben is now improving all of the time and able to get up to as much mischief as any other 19 month-old boy!
Back to the Onesie thing... as I mentioned, on 1st December before the Wolverhampton Wanderers match, both Kezsa Mitchell and I will don our Onesies and wear them to Bar BS3 (if our dress code allows), before heading to the Gate at about 1.30pm collecting as much money as we can. All the money raised will go towards the Play Team at the Barbara Russell Children’s Unit who do such a brilliant job in making the children’s (and parents!) time in hospital that bit easier.
Thanks for reading
If you wish to support the appeal you can donate at:
Text “BARB80” plus the amount you wish to donate (e.g. BARB80 £5) to 70070. 
Follow us on Twitter using #WearYourOnesie or message us directly @BigStanHibbert and @Kezsajm. You can also see us at Ashton Gate on Saturday, either outside or in the EastEnd, we shouldn’t be too difficult to spot! Thank you so much for your support.
Please do support Stan and Kezsa (who is lending much needed moral support), this is a fairly unique way of raising money and a special cause.  If you can't get to the Gate tomorrow the justgiving link again is: www.justgiving.com/bigstanhibbert


Sunday, 18 November 2012

A little bit of history repeating...

Stu Radnedge returns to the blog with a view - admittedly prior to the Blackpool match (it's been a busy week!)  - on City's disastrous late-Autumn:

It’s all just a little bit of history repeating…?

Those are, what I consider to be, words from one of the greatest Shirley Bassey songs ever (the Propellerheads are credited for the track but her vocals are what makes the song, in my opinion). And it’s rather a fitting description for what us City fans are hopefully enduring currently. I say hopefully, as the season after this we should be getting promoted… and not from League One.

As pointed out by the board last Monday, we’ve been here before. A string of games this long without a win was last experienced in the 2005/06 season which saw a City legend, Brian Tinnion, be man enough to step down after we were annihilated 7-1 by one of the Welsh teams (I can’t mention the name – it still hurts).

Step up Gary Johnson, but the resurgence was not instant. City were 23rd, with the same number of points, on Boxing Day as Johnson started his reign disastrously, but we finished the season in 9th.  The following season, as we all can remember, promotion ensued after finishing as runners-up.

But please don’t take this prose as the ramblings of a mad-man… yet.  I am in no way suggesting the Premier League is waiting for us next season. The focus clearly has to be on turning around this recent run of misfortune and woe – as that is all it is.

But being near the bottom now is nowhere near as bad as being in this position after the New Year. Obviously.

I imagine I’m not alone but I enjoy listening to Talk Sport on the way to and from work. The stick Arsenal get from the presenters is quite amusing, but something that was said one morning made me want to share it in this blog.

The presenter said, “Chelsea fans. What do you think of Di Matteo? Is he not winning enough games?”

Hold on. This is the Chelsea that two weeks ago was demolishing everyone, but has since lost to Man United and drew with Liverpool on the weekend…. Madness.

But it’s the same with City. The successful start to the season bred hope in us all and now the bump back down to earth has been harder to deal with.

Yes, in 2005 a managerial change helped save us, but not instantly. And at this moment in time, could we afford a new manager coming in and taking 15 games to find his feet, over the busy Christmas period. No.

Instead of looking back at history, which will play no part in our future, we should be concentrating on just that – our future.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Interview with an opposition fan: Charlton Athletic

Is it too early to talk of six-pointers?  Derek McInnes certainly doesn't think so - his comments ahead of tomorrow's matched were laced with the potential importance to City's season, so ahead of Sunday's crunch clash with Charlton Athletic, The Exiled Robin is delighted to welcome Al Gordon, host of the intruigingly named God, Charlton and Punk Rock blog, to the site, who was kind enough to answer some of my questions:

You took the division by storm last season and were deserved Champions.  Has the step up been harder than you expected?
At the beginning of the season we would have settled for mid table but had deep down a small desire for reaching the play-offs. The likes of Norwich and Southampton (the two sides we got relegated to League One with) have almost set a precedent for back to back promotions although I don’t believe at Charlton we have the resources to build a Premier League side out of a League One squad in just one season.
We’ve played some good football already this season but have been punished for defensive mistakes time and time again. We also need to be a lot more clinical, chances aren’t so frequent as last year so we really do need to take them when we can.
I believe the first fifteen games have been quite a stern lesson for the players, officials and supporters alike.
So is Chris Powell still bullet-proof as the gaffer or are questions being asked?
Obviously Chris Powell is a firm favourite with the fans and can do no wrong in many eyes. The support for him was unbelievable on Tuesday at home to Cardiff, 15,000 Addicks were right behind him for the whole 96 minutes.
He has been criticised for his substitutions, his constant playing people out of position whilst seemingly overlooking other options and also for fielding a rather negative 4-5-1 at home. Sometimes you get the feeling we’re playing not to lose rather than to win. I however want to see him get the full season under his belt, I believe we’re too good to go down and the man deserves this chance after the success he got in his first full season. He’s a young manager learning his trade, there will never be a more comfortable environment for him to do this in.
There is however a ‘but’. There are continuous reports of his relationship with the board being a little strained. They have made it clear they’ll have things done their way (it’s their money at the end of the day), but Chris Powell and director Tony Jimenez aren’t from all accounts the best of friends. Time will tell.
You've made a couple of decent-looking loan signings this week, is this a sign of desperation or just covering injuries?
Dan Seaborne is a great addition to the squad. We were down to just one fit full back in the senior ranks before his arrival as the club has been ravaged by injury. Rhoys Wiggins and Cedric Evina both left sided full backs are sidelined resulting in Chris Solly (our player of the year) playing out of position. His place on the right was taken by Lawrie Wilson who has also now entered the over capacity treatment room. Someone, much funnier than myself, joked the other day that perhaps we should get another physio in on loan too!

Eggert Johnsson had a great reputation in Scotland with Hearts but the Icelandic midfielder has struggled to turn heads at Wolves. In fact one Wolves supporter remarked to a friend of mine that he was one of the worst players he’s ever seen in a gold shirt. I’ve faith in Chris Powell’s judgement albeit out of loyalty, and to the players credit he can fill a full back berth if needs be.
How was Tuesday night for you (Charlton came back from two goals down, to go 5-2 up and eventually defeat Cardiff 5-4)?
There are some nights that will stay in your mind for years to come, this was one of them. We’d had a real footballing lesson from Middlesbrough last Saturday so expectation wasn’t too high as the league leaders at that time came into town. Three minutes in and a goal down, I began to wonder if I should have just stayed in the pub.
We showed some determination and desire to claw our way back into the game, the crowd sensed it and it was like flicking on an electrical power supply resulting in an atmosphere the likes of which were long forgotten in recent times.
In fairness the defending was comical from both teams and I’ve no idea where the referee got six minutes of stoppage time from. They were six of the longest minutes of my life, only Charlton could come back like that and then nearly throw it all away. (ER - True, City could come back like that, but they would have thrown it all away; Burnley a few weeks ago springs to mind!)
The one dampener on the evening was Palace going top.
Bearing in mind we've already lost 3-5 and 3-4 at home this season, do you think Sunday will be another goals galore bonanza or will Powell look to tighten up after midweek?
I’m certain Chris Powell will want to tighten up, eight goals conceded in the last two games is unacceptable at any level, but with a new face guaranteed to start at the back communication may not be at its best across our rear guard.
Concentration is a must for the full ninety minutes, we can’t afford to start slowly again, or lose focus at the end. As I said before, switch off at this level for just the briefest of moments and you’ll get punished.
A clean sheet will not only be a welcomed addition for the boss but also Ben Hamer in goal who must have enjoyed the midweek win less than anybody. Quite simply we cannot afford to keep shipping goals the way we have been.
Both sides have proved they can not only score goals but also leak them as well, what price on a 0-0 now?
Danny Haynes appears to have had his injury problems but was at the heart of Tuesday's win?  How has the former Robin been for you and is he likely to start on Sunday?
Danny has been a forgotten man at Charlton. He has been well down the pecking order since his arrival at the club with I believe just three starts before Tuesday. His performance against Cardiff was, in my eyes, worthy of a man of the match accolade.
I hope we get to see a lot more of him as the season progresses but I fear Sunday he’ll be travelling back to Ashton Gate as a spectator only.
He came off on Tuesday night I believe carrying a knock but there is a possibility it was just cramp.  Not a game goes by without someone limping off the pitch.
In this season preview for The Exiled Robin, @ramblingaddick was raving about Yann Kermorgant.  Other than a potentially inevitable Haynes goal, is he the man City should be watching out for or is he still some way from full fitness?
Again, you’ll be watching him in the stands. He’s been out injured for nearly two months. Don’t panic, I’m sure we can field eleven players come Sunday.
Yann was instrumental in our success last season, a target man that can also use his feet to great effect. So popular with the supporters that they often sing “we all dream of a team of Kermorgants” although I have to hold my hands up and say he does go to ground a little too easily for my liking.
I believe Yann is still a couple of weeks away from returning so Rob Hulse is likely to continue alone up front. Having been told By Queen’s Park Rangers, who still hold his registration, that he has no future there (and also no squad number), he is very much in the shop window and hence has everything to play for. His performance on Tuesday was also immense and on par with that of Danny Haynes.
Bradley Wright-Phillips seems to only appear in a twenty minute cameo role these days, full of running and enthusiasm he does seem a little out of his depth at this level. We don’t have an out and out twenty goals a season player, just a team that are all more than capable of getting their names on the score sheet.
From what you've seen this season, who are the best and worst sides you've faced, and have you been impressed with any one particular player at the higher level?
Middlesbrough last weekend thoroughly proved why they occupy top spot as we speak, and did look a class above. However, both Leicester and Cardiff have come to SE7 and lost which emphasises that everyone is beatable in the Championship.
Nottingham Forest chose our visit to show the rest of the division what they are capable of, yet it remains only Boro and Forest (for forty five minutes) that have played us off the park.
Arch rivals Crystal Palace came to The Valley back in September and took all three points although they failed to dominate, the one difference between the sides being Wilfried Zaha.
He twisted and turned his way through the full backs all night, even swapping sides to tease on both flanks. Definitely head and shoulders above the rest, it’s no wonder all the big clubs are not just monitoring him but waving big fortunes under the nose of Palace. I would be amazed if he isn’t getting the likes of Hansen and Shearer excited every Saturday night on Match of the Day after January.
And finally, the inevitable score prediction.  These are incredibly hard to pick for City home games this season!
I’m really hoping the momentum of Tuesday will carry us through and we can return to London with all three points. It’s still too early to be calling this a six pointer isn’t it?
With all due respect to yourselves, we cannot afford to be going to a bottom three club and coming away with less than a point, otherwise it won’t be long before we’re also a member of the exclusive three.
I do still foresee defensive nightmares though so I am plumping for a 2-2 draw. I’ll take a point away from home all day long, whoever the opposition.

Many thanks again to Al for these words, you can follow him on Twitter here:

Friday, 9 November 2012

McInnes' anniversary celebration falls flat

After another reasonably-sized absence, The Exiled Robin returns with a vengeance this weekend with two posts in as many days.

First up is guest writer Stu Radnedge, who mulls over City's poor run of form on the anniversary of the appointment of Derek McInnes, and debates what's next for the Robins:

"It’s time to stand up and be counted…already.
It’s been just over a year since City fans rejoiced in the arrival of Del with many, if not all, dreaming of a new beginning for our club and wondering if he really could be the one to take us to the promised land.
Yet again however, we find ourselves asking that time old question of “Where did it all go wrong?” Just one point off the bottom, Del sees the club in pretty much the same position as we were in when he took over in 2011.
The boo-boys, the self-proclaimed realists - whatever you want to label them as - are calling for heads to roll. The eternal optimists are at the polar opposite saying a new man in charge would have the same issues. Then there are those fans in-between both those opinions, praying or pleading for our luck to change. And this is the camp I find myself sitting with.
Luck is a lady worth being on the right side of as, when she’s not on your side, life is not worth living.  The start of this campaign was good, if not excellent. Beating Palace and Cardiff, Wooly finding form, the team playing as a unit – life was good. Then Cunningham suffered an 8-week lay off due to injury and it seemed like everything went down hill from there. Results in particular but also injuries, some horrific, to our emergency loan signing Big George, this week to McManus and knocks to Fonts, Skuse, Carey, Marv, etc…
The injuries to defenders has exemplified our frailties in defence and shown a lack of depth of quality.
But it is by no means the end.  While it is truly disheartening to see our team on a run like this, it must only get better. We just have to ride out the storm. Changing manager will not achieve anything except winning a disruptive round of the blame game.
My fear is that recently we have been saved from the drop by teams losing points by entering administration. Is that what we will need to rely on again this year?  I hope not. But results will not change and the lovely lady called luck will not return to help us if we are not unified.
Sunday is a very important game.  I’m making the journey up from Cornwall to watch the game and I would like to take this opportunity to say I’m behind the gaffer, behind the team and will be forever more. I’m not so blinkered to not see when things are going wrong, but to me all that has been against us is disruptive injuries and luck being against us.
But now it’s time to stand up and be counted."
Thanks very much to Stu for his latest view and he's right in saying Sunday is a critical game.  Something must be gained out of this, the first of two winnable home games, if we aren't to be cut adrfit at the bottom. 
Injuries are taking their toll and it will be interesting to see if the initial interest in former Middlesboro defender Matthew Bates develops.  Reinforcements are certainly required - more so with every passing week.
One thing is for sure, we all need to get behind the team on Sunday and help them towards three points.  The spirit showed in the run to survial at the end of last season must be reignited and we can all help.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Sam Baldock: A Hammers' view

Tuesday night wasn't your typical Ashton Gate night.  Opening the home campaign on a Tuesday night seemed strange enough, and that perhaps provided part of the reason for a relatively disappointing crowd of a little over 12,000.

For those that were there however, the night is one they'll never forget.  It began with rumours buzzing around that another new player - to add to that of Steven Davies the previous day - was about to sign.  When Derek McInnes failed to present himself to the press pre-match and local journalists began tweeting about 'something going on', the rumour mill really picked up pace.

Who had been seen around the ground? Who was that sitting in the Director's box?  Perhaps it was even a double signing, with both Sam Baldock and DJ Campbell reportedly interesting our young Scottish manager.  It soon became clear that whoever it was, there was an on-pitch half-time presentation planned to announce the new signing.

The major risk to all of this of course, was that it would cause a distraction to on-field activities.  There was to be no such worry.  Bizarrely, and remarkably un-City-like, the Robins started the game like Usain Bolt coming out of the blocks in London a few short weeks ago.  Two early goals and chances galore, with the front four of Woolford, Stead, Taylor and Adomah playing out of their skin, slicing and dicing the Palace backline seemingly at will.

And then an official club text, around 25 minutes in, that Sam Baldock had signed.  The game went on in fantastic style, City eventually wrapping up a 4-1 win against a side who have become rivals ove the past few seasons, but much of the talk during and after was of this new, young, exciting signing.

Tom Victor is a qualified journalist, a West Ham fan, and the editor of the quite fine general football website Pele Confidential and can be followed on Twitter here.  I'm immensely grateful to Tom for providing this profile of City's newest signing.

"When Sam Baldock arrived at Upton Park there was an unfortunate sense of apathy over which he had little control.

His move from MK Dons last August came just two days before Scott Parker’s omission from the squad to play Nottingham Forest signalled his imminent departure to Tottenham, and those fans not merely unmoved by the new arrival saw the juxtaposition of the signing of a League 1 striker, and the exit of the club’s captain in all but name, as the moment that relegation from the Premier League truly began to sink in.

When West Ham plied their trade in the Premier League, Baldock’s name was one which barely registered, save for the knowledge that he had scored freely in the lower reaches of the league and was being looked at by those at Championship level.

However soon after his arrival it became evident that the then-22-year-old’s instincts had every chance of bringing him success at a higher level than that to which he was accustomed.

The 3-2 win against Leicester and the 4-0 triumph over Blackpool stood out, with Baldock finding the net twice in each and proving near-impossible to play against, but a spell on the sidelines with injury going into the new year was among a combination of factors which saw his opportunities limited thereafter.

Aside from the injuries and lack of goalscoring form, the signings of Nicky Maynard and Ricardo Vaz Tê - coupled with Sam Allardyce’s increased preference for 4-5-1 - suggested Baldock’s time in East London was limited.

Seemingly regarded as too lightweight to lead the line alone, and two direct and attack-minded to fill the wide roles occupied on occasion by Vaz Tê and Maynard (either side of Carlton Cole), Baldock was limited to substitute appearances, coming off the bench more often than he started over the course of the season.

Still, even then - as the brief cameo against Crystal Palace in February illustrated - he never stopped working on his fitness and hunger to succeed.

Bristol City fans might have dreamed of a return for Maynard - still the club’s top scorer in 2011-12 despite his January departure - but his former team-mate ought to have a similar impact if given the chance.

Four goals in the shop-window of pre-season killed any doubts some might have had about match-sharpness, and a proper run of games in a traditional front two ought to be all Baldock needs to reach 15 goals or more."

Baldock's signing caps a tremendous recruitment drive on the part of the manager McInnes, who surely now has finalised his attacking options.  Pace has been missing from the forward line since the previously-mentioned Maynard departed acrimoniously, but in Baldock, McInnes appears to have signed that player who can stretch defences and take advantage of tired and the slower legs. 

Last season's Playerof the Year Jon Stead will be batting hard to stay a part of the plans, whilst youngster Ryan Taylor proved he remains at the forefront of McInnes' mind despite the new additions.  Brett Pitman looks the most at risk, a goal poacher whose workrate is oft-questioned, looks the least natural fit into McInnes' way of going about things.

With Steve Davies and now Baldock in the mix, City can either attack sides physically, with pace or with skill, and that will make them dangerous opposition for anyone, something that was certainly not the case last time out.

A commanding centre-half is still required, and then the dreaming can truly start, but whatever goes on behind them, the forward line City now possess would be the envy of many other sides in the Championship's 24.

Steven Davies: A Rams' point of view

The signing of Steven Davies seems an awful long time ago already.  Tuesday night's excitement - a win, four goals and another new signing - makes it seem like a distant memory but Davies' signing was, is, exciting and ambitious in equal measure.

Coming off the back of a narrow and mildly encouraging defeat at one of the favourites for promotion, Nottingham Forest, many fans were discussing the need for some extra potency up front and, lo and behold, we finally land one of our main summer targets.

I'm delighted that Ollie Wright of The Derby County Blog, who penned this piece for The Exiled Robin back in November upon the signing of another Stephen, Pearson, from Pride Park, has returned to these pages to offer a view on City's (penultimate) latest signing.

"If the fact that Nigel Clough had been publicly challenging Steve Davies to step up and become a 20-goal striker this season is anything to go by, it's fair to say that the striker's decision to turn down a contract extension in favour of a summer transfer was something of a surprise to the club.

Clough and his staff clearly thought that, having stood by Davies despite his terrible injury record and given him a platform to finally prove himself in the Championship, they would finally be in a position to reap the benefits and tie down a striker with many strings to his bow - technique, passing, heading, shooting from range, free kicks, a great penalty-taker.  Granted, he lacks pace and isn't the most powerful striker in the division, but there is no reason why he can't become one of the best number nines at this level - fitness allowing.

Because Davies' career appearance record is so patchy that Bristol City shouldn't realistically bank on more than 30 appearances from him in a season.

The abilities are there for all to see.  But Davies never put it together for a whole season at Derby.  Ultimately, it could be that he is not quite durable enough to be a top player and with that in mind, it might not be such a bad thing that he has left Derby.  His goal return was better than one in three appearances last season, but it was only 12 goals from 21 starts and six sub appearances.

I'm sad to see Davies leave, but hopefully, he's making the right decision for his career and more importantly, I sincerely hope that we will be able to replace his goals straight away.  He is a genuine talent and I'll never forget the penalty he scored at the City Ground, when we beat Forest at a canter on a sunny day in February 2009 (as pictured in the banner of Derby County Blog).

A gifted player, Davies never became a real Derby hero and will go down in the history books as one who might have been.  Whether his career continues on a similar path, or Bristol City end up with a real player on their hands, remains to be seen.

2008/09 APPS 10 (13 as sub) GOALS 4
2009/10 APPS 10 (13) GOALS 2
2010/11 APPS 14 (7) GOALS 5
2011/12 APPS 21 (6) GOALS 12

TOTAL STARTS 55 (Sub appearances 39)

Many thanks once again to Ollie for his contribution, and it's another good detailed and balanced picture of an ex-Derby player.  Overall Davies' record at Derby seems strong and the main issue seems to be the regularity in which he can perform.  Injuries have plagued many a player before and a change of scene, of training session, of physio can sometimes work wonders.

He's not a target man who will hold the ball up and batter the defensive line, and he's not a nippy, pacy striker who is going to get in behind the back four, but he is a talented footballer who can create chances as well as score them and offers something no-one else in the current squad can.

If Davies can stay fit and develop alongside the experienced Jon Stead, who will undoubtedly bring him into play with relish, then City may just have signed one of the young gems of the Championship.

A plethora of strikers give cause for optimism

The latest guest post from Stu Radnedge reflects on an up-and-down week and the selection dilemma now facing manager Derek McInnes.
"After a week off from work, in order to move into my new house, I returned on Monday and received a lot of banter from my colleagues (Arsenal fans) who all knew I had attended the ill-fated cup-match.

They asked what I thought and I said, obviously the result wasn’t what anyone wanted but when Elliott scored about five minutes from time – the blood coursing through my veins said “we’re going to win this”.
After lots of laughter, they commended my spirit.
When I arrived Wednesday morning, after texting the two in question with a stupid amount of “We’re going up, we’re going up, we’re going – City’s going up” messages after the match concluded 4-1, they didn’t seem surprised. Especially when I explained it’s probably the highest position we’ve been in and the largest positive goal difference we’ve had in two years – maybe more…

The euphoria from the Bristol City fans on Twitter was something to read and treasure on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The sceptics had been silenced, albeit temporarily, and BS3 was bouncing. 
It’s great to see Woolford and the lads commended by so many fans. But can the momentum continue?  Momentum and spirit are two things, in my eyes, that can’t be bought.  There is no doubt signing Davies and Baldock definitely sends out the right message to those in the league that may have been writing off our chances this year.

My only fear is that with two new forwards, other players may not get a look in. Every action has a reaction. It’s what makes the world go round!
Does this mean we say goodbye to Taylor? Let’s hope not after last night’s performance. But what about Stead and Pitman? Stead will surely stay but Pitman could be shown the door… maybe?

Competition for places is healthy at any club, more specifically for our team as we have for a long time lacked depth in particular positions. So having a choice of five strikers can only be a good thing.
But how many signings are too many? Teams that buy 10 new players in a preseason seldom get off to a good start. We’ve had eight and we have to remember they need to bed-in and find their feet at the club before we start expecting the world.
Let’s just hope they all settle in, in time for the visit of Cardiff on Saturday."

Thanks to Stu for his latest post.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Bristol City Season Preview: Tom Langridge

As with all of the greatest shows, they finish on a high and leave you wanting more.  And just when you think it’s all over, there’s a short encore which wraps everything up nicely and leaves you with a smile of satisfaction as you exit, ready to face the dark night outside.
And so it is with pleasure I introduce Tom Langridge, a freelance sports journalist who is mad about Bristol City and looking to get into sports writing.  He has contributed this additional piece, focusing on the seemingly tough pre-season the players endured and then moving on to the hustle and bustle of the transfer window, to complete the picture on The Exiled Robin and setting things up nicely as you exit the site and begin thinking about heading up the M5, M42 and M1 for the start of the season.
Tom writes match reports on City for the comprehensive football site It’s Round and it’s White so check out his writing by followinghim on Twitter here:

Something that has been missing from a pre-season campaign at Ashton Gate for a number of years.
However Derek McInnes has rekindled the fans’ enjoyment of the ups and downs of the summer transfer window.  McInnes laid his cards out early on by stating he wanted one or two new faces before the squad returned in early July.
City have been slow out of the blocks under previous managers, leaving the fans feeling nervous that the season was approaching and players weren’t arriving.
But with McInnes, City showed their intentions early, signing veteran midfielder Jody Morris and exciting full back Greg Cunningham in the first week of the squad returning.
Just hearing the player’s interviews after they returned from their pre-season training camp in Marbella was enough to fill the fans with an eagerness for the season to start now.
Triple training sessions in the boiling heat, vigorous fitness training and many of the players coming back saying it was ‘one of the hardest pre-season tours of their career’.  McInnes had given them a true work out, and the signings brought in before the friendlies began only added to fans excitement.
Tom Heaton, a good solid goalkeeper who came through the Manchester United academy and saved Steven Gerrard’s penalty in Cardiff’s Carling Cup final penalty shootout defeat, whilst Paul Anderson provides more Championship experience as a winger who can play on wings as well as playing behind a lone striker.
City’s pre-season friendlies have provided the fans with plenty of encouragement that we could continue the run of form that saw us drag ourselves out of a relegation dog fight and finish with an eight game unbeaten run.
The only downside to the summer will be the club’s failure to find a pacey striker, despite McInnes’ best efforts.
With just Pitman and Stead fit for the opener versus Nottingham Forest, McInnes will have to decide whether to try and push for one more signing or to go with just one upfront at the City Ground.
Either way, I’m sure the Scot, along with every City fan, hopes that the players are confident following their pre-season results and get off to a good start in McInnes’ first full season at Ashton Gate."
Thanks again to Tom for his contribution.
And that really is that. COYR

Bristol City Season Preview: Will Jones

The final season preview comes from a writer I've much-admired since I saw a series of well-written, well-thought out and ever-so-slightly quirky posts on his own website last year. Since then we've collaborated (albeit over a long period of time which meant a slightly flaky end product) on a review of how City play the so-called beautiful game in an early incarnation of The 72 Football's Tactics Bible.

Thus I'm delighted to abe able to introduce Will Jones to the pages of The Exiled Robin - if you don't enjoy this then I'll eat my hat!

"There’s a phrase you hear around the pubs and bars of BS3 most Saturday evenings, spreading across the city as the night draws on, uttered in homes at 5pm as the scores come in, and at workplaces the following Monday as bragging rights are conceded for a week.  It’s viral.  The more it’s said the more it spreads.  You’ve probably used it yourself, maybe often.  You’ll certainly have heard it.

“Typical City”.

It accompanies every late goal conceded, every shoot-yourself-in-the-foot red card, every opposition breakaway, after ten minutes of concerted pressure, that leads to a defeat.  Every three-point performance with a single-point return.  Every time we score with 5% of our shots on target and they score with 100% of theirs.

There’s irritation in the phrase, and frustration, but there’s resignation too.  Maybe even a touch of long-suffering amusement, as though the club were a cross-eyed and deeply stupid old terrier who walks into walls and gets chased by ducks.  It’s a sense befitting fans of a club who’ve spent most of their existence bouncing aimlessly around the middle of the football league.  When we get promoted, we do it in second place; when we get relegated, we do it dead last.

We’re all used to this, and we get briefly wound-up but mainly we get exasperated.  We can’t be cross long. We’ll still be back.  16,000 turned up to watch Birmingham beat us easily last season, eight days after Peterborough had done exactly the same.  We weren’t expecting anything different.  How could we have been?

But not that long ago we got something different.  We got our second-place promotion, and that felt good enough, but then we got something else.  We got a team to care about.  A team that won, didn’t win emphatically but won again, and again, and again.  That didn’t lose at home as an article of faith.  That was limited (of course it was; it was still City) but got the maximum possible return out of its inaugural Championship campaign, and knocked on the door of the top flight.

You know the rest of the story.  Bad signings, bad decisions and bad tempers.  Slowly slipping down the league table, season after season, like thick gravy sliding down a wall.  The only question being whether it congeals before it reaches the bottom.  The last few seasons have been our apotheosis; essence of City.

And I think a lot of us have been hoping that we might get something different this season.  A bit more fun, maybe.  Some younger players pushing some of the older, over-established ones out.  After all the changes of manager that did nothing but increase our losses, we’d finally snagged a good young boss with a bit of vision about him.  That was exciting and we had every right to expect a different, less typical, City.

We still do, of course.  But that’s why starting the season by going out of the League Cup at home to lower-league opposition was potentially so damaging.  Because that is, unequivocally, typical City.  It’s the fifth season in a row it’s happened.  Third in a row that it’s happened in round one.  Our cup record in recent years is shocking – five wins in our last twenty-two games, three in sixteen since promotion (all against lower-league opposition in the first round of the league cup, and since 2009 we’ve failed even to do that).  We haven’t won a knockout tie since August 11 that year.  We haven’t beaten Championship-level or higher opposition since January 16 2007, when we knocked Coventry out of the FA Cup.  We ourselves were a League One outfit at that stage.  We haven’t won an FA Cup tie since we got promoted.

Derek’s first League Cup game would have been a good opportunity to show that things were changing, but it went as badly as his first FA Cup game earlier in the year.  It feels like a chance missed.  I think that’s why it’s dispirited fans more than such a result normally might.  We’re all concerned now that we’ll lost 3-0 in our first league fixture for a third year running, giving us two portents that nothing whatsoever has changed.

That might happen; I hope it doesn’t, but it might.  But it doesn’t automatically follow that we’ll suffer  the same football again.  I do think McInnes knows what he’s doing and I do think things won’t quite be the same.  I think it’ll be difficult.  I think there will  be bad days at the office, probably quite a few.  But I’ve already seen signs in our transfer dealings and the way we ended last season that things can be different.  Like most fans, I’m really hoping to be proved right.

Derek McInnes.  Over to you."

There, told you! so My hats are safe for now. 

You can follow Will on Twitter here: and don't forget to check out his simply superb website To the Left of Ross

That concludes this mini-series of previews - I hope you enjoyed them and agree the three writers are all welcome additions to the roster - I for one certainly hope they'll be back on these pages soon.

So now to Saturday.  Day one.
Let's all forget Tuesday night's cup exit, let's forget talk about stands being shut and membership schemes being closed, vouchers that aren't as expected and sponsor flags that have replaced fans flags. No-one's trying to do a bad job, no-one's attempting to sabotage our chances on the pitch, or the enjoyment of fans off the pitch. Everyone's trying to make a positive difference so let's stop in-fighting and arguing over every little thing and make this club one to proud of again, on and off the pitch.

Get behind the boys, sun, rain or snow; win lose or draw and you never know - we might just be alright.

Come on you Reds!

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