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

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Does Geography impact on City's hopes?

Stuart Radnedge returns with a post-Reading view on matters and an interesting angle on whether geogrpahy affects the calibre of player City can attract - something I've certainly felt for a number of years.

"I realised quite a few things when I heard ex-Gashead Jason Roberts had scored against us on his debut for Reading on Saturday.  And it wasn’t anything to do with my hatred for him being reignited.
I began reflecting on footballing situations.
Roberts is one of many former Premier League (he did somehow get that far!) footballers who take a step down a league and ply their trade in the Championship.  But why is it that these players always seem to join other clubs aside from us?
Is it the London, Manchester, Midlands factor? Players join a club near those areas because they’ve already set up home nearby and are hoping to stay at the club, like Reading, or alternatively play well and then move on to another not too far away? Maybe.
But by that rationale does this make West Country hopes of playing in the Premier League that little more difficult because the bigger players will always want to keep their options open for moves to clubs that are located more preferably.
Let’s be honest. If you play for City and you move on you’ve got a local selection of Swindon, Yeovil, the Gas, Cheltenham, Argyle, Torquay or Hereford. Oh and Exeter (sorry Uncle Dave).
Anywhere else in the country and you’ve got the option of playing for clubs varying from League 2 to the Premier League.
But does this mean we have to accept mediocrity. One word answer – no.
We can accept that it would have been a good result for us to come away from Reading with a point.  But we should never stop believing maybe, just maybe, we could come away with all three points.
If we looked at the league this year before a ball was kicked and said who we should expect to beat we would all probably pick the three clubs that came up from League One, plus one or two others.
But that’s not the beautiful game. Anyone who’s ever picked a nine-match accumulator and tried to predict how the results will go to make their fortune will remember the one match that ended in a draw after a 94th minute equaliser and cost them £874 for a £21 bet (I’m speaking from experience here – it’s how I could afford to eat at Uni)!
I don’t even think we were unlucky on Saturday. With a new month around the corner all I’m looking at is how we can ensure survival in the Championship.
Then we can give the gaffer a fair crack of the whip and allow him the summer to build a squad that could win us a one way ticket to the promised land…

Thanks to Stuart for his contribution.
Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The beginning of the end for Maynard?

Following a vastly improved performance and result for City against relegation rivals Doncaster Rovers on Saturday, Stu Radnedge returns to The Exiled Robin with this post-match view and what the future holds for star striker Nicky Maynard. (ER - written prior to City's announcement that Wigan had been given permission to talk to Maynard)

From the despair of last weekend’s result against Brighton came a stellar performance and victory for the best team in Bristol on Saturday as City recorded Derek McInnes’ seventh victory in his time as manager.  The victory saw new signing Chris Wood and Kalifa Cisse score well-orchestrated goals in the first half – mounting pressure on the lowly visitors, Doncaster Rovers, who replied with a goal in the second half.  No more so due to them having to play with ten men after Habib Beye was sent off in the inciden that led to City netting their second goal.

But, more interestingly for me was the noted absence of one player who was rested completely – Nicky Maynard. Is this preparation for the inevitable sale or was it forced by an unnamed buyer who stipulated he was not to play?

With the transfer window just over one week away from the close we could find out soon if or where the lad is off to. But one thing is for sure, we have to sell him in this window or risk losing him for nothing.

At the beginning of the year I was one of the many people saying we shouldn’t sell him. Now I wish we had and pocketed the cash that was on offer for him as what he will go for now will be minuscule in comparison!  The cash on offer for him in the summer transfer window would have been vital to offset some of the financial losses we have had. I’m not sure why he’s not signing another contract. It strikes me as being a similar situation as our intrepid former goalie Basso. I think the line from the gaffer was when Basso refused to commit to another terms at Ashton Gate was “For his sake I hope he knows something that I don’t and someone signs him” – or something like that. It’s a risky game to be played.

Nearly 15,000 witnessed Saturday’s victory which I’m sure will delight those in favour of a move away from the Gate to a new stadium in Ashton Vale. 

Positives from a victory are a lot easier to find than finding them in a defeat like last week – but the big one for me is the smiling assassin (if I keep using it, it will stick) Yannick Bolasie.  Hopefully his performance on Saturday will ensure he continues to grow as a player, enjoy his football even more, and keep entertaining the crowds with the creative flair he showed on the weekend and transfer it to this weekend’s match away against Reading.

Nicky Maynard: Moving on Up?

The announcement this morning that City had given permission for Nicky Maynard to talk to Wigan was not unexpected, given that it had been rumoured online and in the press overnight, but still caused a fair amount of consternation and discussion amongst the Ashton Gate faithful.
Many have been quick to jump to understandable but slightly high & mighty remarks surrounding the possible destination.  "Wigan, ha ha! Not the dream move he'd hoped for - see you next season" is a fairly succinct summary of many views and with Fulham, Everton, West Brom and Swansea having been linked in recent weeks it is a reaction that has some grounds.  However the truth of the matter is this appears to have been the only official bid received and with only seven days left of the transfer window, this could turn into the only resolution possible for club and player.
Let's also remember the news today is simply that City have given permission to talk as discussions over a fee are in advanced stage.  Maynard has yet to say anything and may in fact conclude in similar vein to those fans, that he was hoping for something more and will hold out. 
I'm this close to the Premier League
The view is understandable.  Wigan are the poorest supported side in the top flight so hardly fulfil the 'ambition' criteria at first glance and having flirted with relegation for many of the past few seasons, look more likely than ever to face the drop in May.  Having said that they have been in the top flight for seven years now and in that time have had players of some pedigree, players who have moved on to better things, so it may be premature to sniff too huffily at this stage.  Can he do "better than Wigan"?  Possibly, but theirs is currently the only offer on the table.  They may be in a strong position to say 'take it or leave it' and would Maynard really risk blowing his chance at Premier League football, even for a short period?
Of course they may not go down, in which case the move will seem altogether more sensible.  However if they do, Wigan seem less exposed than most to losing a host of top players - they don't have many 'stars' whilst Martinez has already proven he can build a successful lower league squad and he'll have substantial parachute payments to help him along the way.  Wigan might be better placed than many to bounce straight back, albeit on the back of low attendances.  It may pan out differently for Maynard of course.  If the Latics drop but Maynard shines, if he can score eight or nine goals in the remaining 16 games, then he'll be at the top of a number of shopping lists in the summer and likely to be available at a price more like Leicester's apparent valuation of him in the summer.
With regard to Leicester and their summer offers - whatever the amount was - there was serious money on the table and many fans still look back on that and say "We should have sold him when we had the chance".  If you read and listen to the club line on this however you'll soon realise that Maynard had told the club he wasn't interested in signing for Leicester, so there would have been little to gain by the board in accepting a bid (and looking, at the time, like they were bailing out on our star player) when it would never have crossed the finish line anyway.
Maynard won the Golden Boot and Young Player of the Year award in 2009-10
A final reaction has been to bemoan Maynard's lack of loyalty, to complain that he is deserting the club after they've stood by him when he suffered a long-term injury.  Look at the bare facts and that is fact.  The club paid him throughout last season when he only got back on the pitch in February, but those holding that view should reverse the situation and look at themselves in a mirror.
Picture this scenario:  You're in a job that you quite enjoy but you feel you could do better.  You unfortunately suffer a bad illness and are off work for a year, whilst the company still pays you in full.  A few months after you go back, you get wind of the fact that a bigger, better-placed organisation is interested in offering you a promotion, whilst in the meantime trebling your salary and offering you the chance to prove yourself at a higher level.  Could anyone honestly say they wouldn't move company?  Footballers are in the middle of a career, it's their profession.  Yes of course they want their club to do well and many look out for their results once they leave.  Hey, they might even go back every now and again to see old colleagues, old friends, but ultimately they're not fans.  They don't have the club in their blood like we do.  They want to achieve the best they possibly can, enjoy their career as much as possible and earn as much money as they can.  Like the vast majority of other people in the country. 
Let's not forget what Maynard has done for this club.  He is, by some distance, the best striker to make his home at Ashton Gate in a generation.  Leroy Lita had one amazing season, but you probably have to look back to Andy Cole to find the last time a player of Maynard's quality ran opposition defences amok.  Don't let the last few months cloud your judgement as he has clearly been playing with the contractual issues on his mind. 
The relief and joy evident in his face when he scored the late winner against Millwall recently showed a player who still cares about the club and one who was frustrated at his own performances.  Many will disagree with this view, and McInnes himself dropped Maynard after one lack-lustre display too many at Brighton, but underneath there is still a player who ultimately enjoys football and wanted to play well for City.  Remember his second season and his performances last year one he returned from injury.  The great goals, the amazing first touches from the punted long-ball that set him apart, and the way he interlinked with Brett Pitman.
Remember he's only human.  Don't begrudge Nicky this move and don't hold it against him.  He's only doing what each and every other person would do in the same situation - looking after himself and his family.
Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Save Darlo!

My latest article from Bristol City's matchday programme, Red Alert: Doncaster, Jan 21st

Whilst fans of many clubs were looking forward to the new year with anticipation and excitement, Darlington fans went into their first match of 2012, away at Barrow, believing it could be their last. Ever.

Having been placed in administration for a third time, it seemed as if the Grim Reaper was finally catching up on the Quakers.  At the time of writing they have gained yet another, miraculous, short stay of execution but the future looks bleaker than ever.

Many clubs have been in trouble before but I admit it hasn’t always struck the chord that Darlington’s situation has.  Maybe Plymouth’s near-miss woke me up to the fact that clubs I’ve watched City play at were going out of business.  Clubs we’ve had rivalries with and classic matches against.

But the reason this one has hit me is this stunningly emotional piece from Darlington fan, Richard Heslop (@MKDarlo) who wrote this passionate piece on the prospect of watching his club’s potential last game.  

For me, this is what forums and blogs are all about.  Newspaper letters pages can be selective and have space restrictions.  A radio phone-in such as the BBC’s 6-0-6 might have taken the call but it’s unlikely that the call would have been long enough to get over the true message or encapsulated the heart-felt feeling.  For those of us not fortunate enough to work in the media; social media offers a chance for the fan to share their view, as they wish and when a particular item catches the eye, as this one did, it can sweep across a large number of football fans very quickly. Mark Chapman of 5Live and Henry Winter of the Telegraph were amongst those to ‘retweet’ this and promote the cause to hundreds of thousands of additional sports fans.

And if you are still only twenty-five or so years into your fledgling City-supporting life, ask your parents or grandparents what this feels like.  Ask the bloke who sits next to you.  For as supporters of a club who have had their moment in the dark this should resonate with you all.  If it doesn’t, just imagine how you’d feel if this was City.

"Let’s make Barrow on Saturday a celebration of the life of Darlington Football Club, not a wake or a funeral or an attack of those who have dropped us into this position.

Go to Barrow and show people around the world how proud we are of our team and our lads. Let’s show people that we still care, that we are still proud of the club and our town. Let’s show people that Darlington Football Club stands as an ambassador for our town and our area and we will not just give it up and slope off home. We will fight on.

Let’s show the players that that shirt still means something, that that shirt still needs to be worn with pride and that it is worth putting on that shirt and running out on that pitch and representing all of us one last time. One last go lads, everything you have got, one last time, 90 minutes of life as a Darlo player left. Sh*t or bust, hero or zero. Go out with a bang and not a whimper.

Use this game to thank them and the legend that is Craig Liddle for everything they have done recently, against so much strife, unpleasantness and uncertainty and tell them that we are so proud that they are carrying on, let’s get behind whoever takes a place on that pitch, regardless of opinion, past reputation or performance on the day. Because this might be the last time!

Let’s show people what it means to be a fan of Darlo, celebrate those 128 years of existence. Celebrate everything that has gone before, the good, the bad, and the ugly, show people that we although we have been here through thin and thinner, that we have suffered blow after blow we are still not beaten,,we are still not broken, we are still here and we still stand proudly behind Darlington Football Club.

Show them that although we have been on knocked down and might be on the canvas right now we will get back on our feet and come out punching. It will be us who land the knock-out blow. Use this day to shame all of those plastics and couldn’t give a damns in the town into thinking about what they could have been a part of, make them see what have been about, what we are about and what we will be about again.

Let’s celebrate the good times, the 85 promotion, ‘Boro, the Conference win in 89/90, Welling away, 90/91 champions, Rochdale at home, Wembley in 96 and 2000 and that sweet moment in May when a little fella headed home from half a yard to win us the cup.

Make everyone who has knocked us or laughed at us over the years understand that today we embrace all of the crap players, the terrible teams, the rubbish managers and the crazy chairman who have afflicted us. Why? Because all of that makes the few good times even better. Because all of those things are what Darlington Football Club is about. Let’s show them what it means to call yourself a Darlo fan one last time.

Let’s also think of all those people in the Tin Shed in the sky who aren’t able to stand with us on Saturday, think about what the club meant to them and how they passed on that love for the club to you, think about how one day you want to pass that love on to the next generation so that they know what being a Darlo fan is all about. I am sure they will be stood leaning on that crash barrier under the Sunday Sun board with their scarves and flasks of Bovril thinking "typical bloody Darlo" - but they would still make the journey if they could! In fact I am sure they will be there with us. Sing that bit louder for them.

If anyone is unsure about going and is able to go they should make the trip, it could be your only chance to say goodbye to the team you love. It could be your last chance to wear the black and white and get behind the lads. Do whatever it takes to get to Barrow, wear your shirts with pride and wave your scarves one last time. Tell anyone you meet where you are going and why. Tell them you are proud to support the lads!

And should this turn out to be the last time then let’s celebrate all of that, let’s support the lads and the manager, let’s keep singing up to the final whistle and beyond because this club means something to each and every one of us, it has been part of our lives for so long, it is what makes us who were are, it is what makes us better than everyone else and it might not be there for much longer. Let’s make this day one of the greatest moments for this football club.

If it is to be the end lets go out on a high, all guns blazing giving it everything we have got and not for one minute forgetting that we are Darlington Football Club and we will bounce back!”
UPDATE: Darlington’s financial situation is so perilous that every penny counts.  If you’d like to donate, whether it’s just £1 or more, I’m sure they’d all be very grateful.  Click here to help.  Thank you. 

Follow me on Twitter : @TheExiledRobin

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Back for Good? Magic Johnson’s Roundabout turns full circle

City’s most successful manager in a generation finds himself back where he made his name

He’d often wait.  Letting the initial cheers on the final whistle subside and pausing whilst the players walked towards the tunnel, milking the deserved acclaim, shaking each one of them by the hand as they made their way off the pitch. 
Then, this short, round, lovable, chirpy Cockney would start making his way over.  Occasionally he’d break into a little jog and as he got nearer the wide, delighted but cheeky grin became more evident and told you all you needed to know. 
He’d tease the fans, pulling his arm back slightly before letting it rest back by his side.  Again and again whilst the fans’ “Woooooahs” reached a crescendo and then the big arching swing of the arm, back as far as he could manage before launching into a ferocious upper-cut punch of the air as the fans cheered and he was lauded, smothered in adulation by the long-suffering supporters.
Possibly the biggest cheer came on March 1st 2008 when Bristol City beat Hull at Ashton Gate to go back to the top of the Championship.  Somehow, against all the odds, Gary Johnson had steered, induced and persuaded this team of honest, hard-working professionals – finally promoted from League One the previous summer after years of near-misses – to the brink of the Premier League. 
It was to prove a pivotal moment.  The moment in which Johnson’s star shone brightest.  He was a regular on Sky with his camera-friendly charisma always in demand, and helped to raise the profile of the entire club almost single-handedly. 

Johnson enjoyed plenty of success at City
In an article in the Observer newspaper he was touted as “a modern-day Revie” and “the best English manager of our generation”.  He even made it onto the long list of odds as next Manchester United manager at one point, albeit as a 50/1 outsider.  He was that good.
This was no team or riches and there were very few stars.  City were certainly not favourites to achieve promotion. 
Nevertheless, at that precise moment Bristol City were top of the league and marching towards the big time.  Premier League clubs going through sticky patches and some of the fallen giants in the Championship were shooting covetous glances towards the West and, had Johnson been a decade younger than his 52 years, it seems inevitable one would have made an offer neither club nor manager could have refused.
‘Magic’ Johnson could do no wrong.  The goalkeeper was man of the match that day, a Brazilian who was playing for Woking when Johnson spotted his potential.  Adriano Basso went on to be the club’s player of the season.

Adriano Basso starred in goal and was voted Player of the Season in 2008
The defence included a former Newcastle reserve midfielder, switched to right-back so successfully by Johnson, whilst in midfield the manager’s son, Lee, who had played his way up from non-league football with his father and Marvin Elliott complemented each other perfectly when each was on their game.  Bradley Orr, the right-back and Elliott – unwanted by Millwall the previous summer – were so impressive that term they earned places in the PFA team of the season, not an easy accolade for players to earn at an unfashionable team playing against bigger and better-known names.
Indeed, in the Hull match the goals came via his big January signing Dele Adebola – his third in six games – and giant centre-half Jamie McCombe who somehow managed to half hook, half-bicycle kick the ball into the corner to seal the victory.
It was the sort of thing that happened to City that season.  The sort of thing Johnson seemed to be able to make happen.

Gary Johnson’s managerial career began at Cambridge where he faced the daunting task of following the indomitable John Beck into an over-achieving hot-seat.  Falling agonisingly two matches short of promotion to the top flight was an experience Johnson would suffer again, and when Beck’s scrappy, aggressive side eventually broke up – Dion Dublin’s £1m move to Manchester United the most eye-catching – and he was sacked, Johnson unsurprisingly struggled to maintain the momentum. 
A short spell at Kettering was followed by a surprising move to become the Latvian National manager off the back of the instrumental role he played in Marian Pahars’ move to Premier League Southampton.  His unabated charisma enabled him to talk about Latvian football in such glowing terms the authorities clearly felt he was a fifth-generation native!
However Johnson failed to inspire his charges on this occasion and considering a home draw with San Marino would be enough to see off the safest of international managers, Johnson’s brief sojourn in Riga was at an end.  The character and enthusiasm of the man is such that he is still regarded with respect there and has regularly since taken his clubs on pre-season tours to the country.
Relatively quickly he was handed a fresh challenge in England.  Yeovil had long been one of non-league’s biggest clubs.  Famous giant-killers in the F.A.Cup, home attendances regularly larger than most and multiple-champions of the Southern League before automatic promotion was installed, Yeovil had been searching for the final piece in the jigsaw to take them, finally, where they felt they belonged - into the Football League.
Ben Barrett, of Barrett Sports Writing, explains how Johnson wrote himself into Yeovil folklore: 
“When Gary (before his local knighthood) arrived in Somerset for the first time, it was greeted with a universal cry of ... "Who?!"
The former Watford and Latvia man was a relative unknown to many but he was the man the club had entrusted to fire them into the League. That's all we wanted, League football.
The challenge of gaining a simple promotion was just too darn easy for Gary and his men; records tumbled, teams were conquered with an incredible ease and the trophies soon added up.  Three in total, the Conference title, the FA Trophy and then League Two.  He had guided the team that was so often the bridesmaid down the aisle on their own accord."

Johnson won the Conference title first time around at Yeovil
This success was duly noted just up the M5 and when Bristol City begrudgingly sacked club legend Brian Tinnion, following a 7-1 reverse at Swansea, all fingers pointed straight to Huish Park.  Ben doesn’t hold it against him:
“He was promised a crack at getting to the Premier League with Bristol City, seeing him leave stung – of course it did, but no-one would argue he didn't deserve it.”
Johnson began with a win but when seven straight defeats left the club bottom of League One even the biggest advocates of giving a manager time must have been wondering if this was a manager way out of his depth. 
It was then that the Johnson magic kicked in, and from that moment on City never looked back.  Five defeats in the final 25 matches put City on the fringes of the play-off picture and offered hope for the following campaign.
Three early losses led to doubts resurfacing but the belief and spirit that proved to be Johnson’s trademark burst into life after three of the squad were jailed for their part in a nightclub brawl, whilst Orr was sent off at Northampton in a game live on Sky for fighting his own captain, Louis Carey.  Many managers would have ostracised Orr but Johnson used the incidents to bind the squad closer together and City finally achieved promotion, leaving Blackpool, Nottingham Forest and former club Yeovil trailing in the play-offs.
Promotion was achieved in style too, with defenders encouraged to play the ball out from the back, midfielders moving the ball through quickly and cleverly and enough goals to make a difference.
The feel-good factor was everywhere and Johnson played on that, even when it seemed bizarre.  He once asked fans to ‘hold a candle’ to help support the players.  Battery-powered candles that lit up were soon the best-selling item in the club-shop when hundreds and hundreds of fans jumped to the call.

One of the more bizarre episodes at Ashton Gate
Another time he suggested it would be nice to see the City fans a little more active in their support, perhaps they could bounce around the ground, he suggested.  It was the first time in decades that the entire ground responded.  For months, even fans who like to keep their own counsel and politely clap winning goals found themselves on their feet bouncing around like a child on a pogo-stick.  The Johnson factor was truly remarkable.
Alas, back to March 1st 2008.  The opponents that day were to prove sadly prophetic.  The Humbersiders used this result as a fillip, losing just two more matches that season before securing an unlikely play-off place and, ultimately promotion.  City suffered the opposite effect and although the flailing run-in was hardly of Devon Loch’s stature, only two more wins meant the play-offs were scant consolation for being ousted from the automatic spots.
Whilst the semi-final victories over Crystal Palace were magnificent moments, the first cracks started appearing in Johnson’s relationship with some fans at Wembley as, looking for a scapegoat, some have always claimed he made a substitution to enable his son to play a part, rather than choose the right change for the team.
So where did it all go wrong? 
The Lee Johnson factor was an undercurrent that never went away and increasingly bubbled to the surface over the next 18 months.  The initial confidence and positivity had slightly rescinded and Johnson in particular suffered as a result of Elliott failing to reach the same heights as he did in that so-nearly-glorious season.  Without the spectacular protection offered by his comrade, Johnson found himself increasingly exposed in the toughest part of the battle-field.
But it wasn’t just that.  Something appeared to change in Johnson.  This idol, whose every word was seized upon as an instruction to his faithful followers seemed to change his principles.  The exciting, passing, fluency with which City got promoted and to the top of the Championship was abandoned upon signing Adebola, and defenders who thus far had looked comfortable in possession were suddenly encouraged to ‘find the big man’ quickly.
Michael McIndoe, Johnson and playmaker David Noble were suddenly being missed out and City lacked a partner for Adebola who could take advantage or an on-rushing midfielder who could pounce on the balls he was holding up.
The ability of Johnson to motivate his players when it mattered started coming to the fore with a series of disappointing cup defeats and losses in key matches.  Always a bubbly, excitable character, Johnson seemed to skulk further and further into his big overcoat with every passing week.
The Johnson teams seen at Ashton Gate had always been daring, exciting without necessarily scoring bundles of goals but wingers were always played and teams battled until the 95th minute when games were often saved, or even won.  However the players suddenly seemed to follow Johnson into his shell, too concerned with keeping games tight for too long and forgetting how to attack with relish.

The pressure was starting to tell on Johnson
By this time doubts were being raised over Johnson’s ability to spot a decent striker.  Aside from the popular Adebola a whole series of forwards came and went with relatively little success.  Lee Trundle’s play-off goal masked what had been a disappointing step up and many others tried and failed.  No single City striker scored more than 11 goals in three seasons.
He also seemed to become more desperate in his search for the right formula.  His much-publicised ‘total review’ of a prospective signing had led to many possible additions being told they were no longer wanted, with Johnson adamant that he wanted to check all aspects of their background to make sure they fitted with what he already had in place.  This requirement suddenly seemed to dissipate as a succession of loan signings were rolled through the revolving Ashton Gate doors, mostly to no avail.
Finally, doubts began to surface about Johnson’s ability to handle his players’ ever-increasing opinions of themselves.  McIndoe, undoubtedly talented and one of City’s main creative sparks faded and regularly looked disinterested as Johnson seemed to encourage play to switch away from his flank and eventually moved on.  Orr turned down the offer of a new contract and was promptly ostracised from the team, whilst Basso’s head was turned by the apparent riches on offer elsewhere (which never materialised) and he too was left kicking his heels on the sidelines.
Eventually a devastating 3-2 defeat at Plymouth proved the final straw and rumours persist of a particularly aggressive row with hot-headed winger Ivan Sproule in the dressing-room on that fateful night.
Even his critics wished him well – after all he’d achieved more for City than any manager since the great Alan Dicks inspired First Division football in the 1970’s – and when he went to ambitious Peterborough, working for the flamboyant Barry Fry seemed the perfect next step for Johnson to resurrect his promising career.
John Verrallof the excellent Peterborough blog Standing on the Glebe, takes up the tale: 
“When Gary Johnson was announced as Peterborough United manager there was a massive buzz around the club.  Barry Fry, rather hyperbolically, stated that it was “an appointment that would shake world football” but fans were quietly confident Johnson was the man to get Posh back to the Championship at the first attempt.
It had been a while since we had enjoyed the luxury of having an experienced manager in charge of the club – with Mark Cooper and Jim Gannon taking charge after Darren Ferguson – and Johnson was arguably the most high profile manager in the club’s history.
We had doubled our wage budget to secure promotion when Johnson was appointed, and at the request of the manager, had strayed away from our usual “young and hungry” policy that had served us so well in the past. 
In came more high-profile and more experienced players but the star was Lee Tomlin, who was a throw-back as he reminded us that sometimes experience isn’t always key.  We were already on the right track at Posh.”
Initially Johnson looked to be doing well.  ‘The Posh’ started their campaign on fire scoring bundles of goals but at the expense of attention at the back.  John explained:  
“The team, generally, was playing attractive attacking football and we were scoring lots of goals in the process.  He was the manager who started the ‘we’ll score one more than you’ attitude at the club that we have built a reputation for.
However, the reason for this appeared to be his inability to coach the team to be solid defensively. We were leaking goals and against the better sides in the division we simply couldn’t compete.  A 5-1 defeat to Bournemouth on the second weekend of the season was a warning sign of things to come.  A 3-0 hammering by Brighton, a 4-1 reverse against Southampton and a 5-1 mauling at home to Charlton followed and all of a sudden the pressure was on for Johnson of whom we had expected much.”
Other than Tomlin, many of the other relatively expensive signings failed to impress.   Whereas at City Johnson had built his squad on a handful of existing players and five players who’d performed for him at Yeovil, he was starting afresh at London Road.  The magic dust he seemed to sprinkle on unknown names at Ashton Gate had seemingly dried up – perhaps a result of ignoring the character check outlined above. 
John continued:
“Critically Johnson struggled to get the best out of Grant McCann – brought in on massive wages – and a player who has thrived under Ferguson’s second reign.  His other big money midfielder, James Wesolowski, often found himself sitting on the bench.
Worse still was the signings of players like Arron Davies, Seth Nana and Kelvin Langmead all of whom barely troubled the starting line-up throughout the season and now find themselves playing at League Two level.”
Peterborough had spent some time in the top two, and most of the season in the play-off positions but around Christmas they’d slipped a little further adrift.  An attractive F.A.Cup draw at Premier League Fulham was perhaps a chance for respite and to forget the dwindling league form.  Not so explains John:
“Chairman Darragh MacAnthony isn’t one for sympathising with managers and was typically ruthless.  Whilst most Posh fans went to Fulham just wanting to enjoy the day out, the Chairman, being characteristically ambitious, wanted to test our Premier League opposition.  But we got smashed 6-2 and it was the final straw.  Johnson was fired and Darren Ferguson was brought back.” 
To summarise John explained that
“there have been fewer occasions when expectations have been so high at Posh, but we really did expect promotion from League One when Johnson was in-charge and anything else would have been a failure.  It’s safe to say that had he been in-charge there is no way we would have made the play-offs and no way that we would be currently be playing Championship football.
“Johnson always remained positive at Posh, that much was clear to see.  He would celebrate Posh victories, which became increasingly rare as his tenure went on, with a dramatic pump of the fist towards the crowd
(ER: that bit hadn’t gone amiss then) and often would be seen participating with his players applauding travelling fans before kick-off if we played away.

The Johnson fist-pump re-emerged at London Road
That said he often looked clueless in his dug-out. Rarely coming out and issuing instructions from his technical area and often just looking to the sky to search for inspiration. It’s fair to say that it didn’t come quick enough to save his job.”
Johnson wasn’t out of the game for long though but even for someone desperate to be in work, a move to struggling League Two side Northampton came as a surprise to many.
Danny Brothersan exiled Northampton Town fan living near Bath, writes for ‘A Load of Cobblers’ and has less than fond memories of Johnson’s disastrous spell in charge at Sixfields.
Initially there was positivity.  “The general feelings I had on his arrival were good ones.  As for his Peterborough days, we saluted him for holding them up more than anything!”  Expectations were sky-high on the appointment and Johnson even made the mistake of targeting the playoff places in his first interview!
But when asked to select the best moments of Johnson’s time, Danny struggled.
“It’s tough to think of real highs, barring the victories that kept us in the league last season, at home to Stevenage and at Morecambe. 
After dropping down the league and just surviving we gave him another chance with a full summer to bring in his own players, and he went ahead and completely dismantled the squad.
In the summer Bayo Akinfenwa was brought back from Gillingham which lifted the whole place for a while, whilst the signing of Jake Robinson was also seen as a major coup at the time despite not really finding form in a Cobblers shirt yet.  So there was another bout of high expectations come August but once again we failed to get going, with Johnson’s tinkering leading to another few months of struggle.
There were signs of hope in September’s 3-0 win at AFC Wimbledon but it really is a struggle to find massive highlights!
On the other hand, I could go on for a long time about low points…his falling out with striker Shaun Harrad that saw him sold to Bury at the end of the transfer window with no replacement ready.  Hiding out in the dugout when things were going wrong rather than leading from the front-line.  There were dodgy signings who were unproven in League Two, and he had a general lack of enthusiasm for the job.”
Danny expanded on further signs of a lack of judgement when it came to player signings:
“The likes of Ashley Corker, Nick McKoy and Chris Arthur were all questionable acquisitions for this level.  All three seemed to try pretty hard but just aren’t ready for this level of football and only Corker remains after a bit of a clear-out by new manager Aidy Boothroyd."
With regard to Johnson’s character, Danny’s view is somewhat contradictory to previous experiences:
“My main gripe was that he just didn’t connect at all with the Cobblers fans.  As mentioned above, he sulked and hid in the dug-out during some games, not even coming out to make tactical changes and that was the point when it really started to go downhill.  He then went on to blame our fans on national radio afterwards for having too high expectations!”

It seems that Johnson and the Cobblers was no marriage made in heaven.  From the outside looking in, it appears as if he never really wanted to be there and no-one can perform in a job if that’s the case.
So is this a career on a downward spiral?  Has Johnson lost ‘the knack’ just four years after seeming so impervious?
Two short, unsuccessful spells at clubs will have hurt him, with a seemingly ever-diminishing ability to get the best out of the players at his disposal.  A litany of questionable signings doesn’t bode well but of more concern would be the demeanour displayed at Northampton.  The Johnson City fans remember was always smiling, grinning and generally enjoying life.  He’d crack jokes with the press and media and always be able to make light of any situation by taking the mickey out of a player or himself.  If he’s lost his charisma and school-boy-esque excitement then he’ll naturally struggle to motivate players in the same way he did whilst in the West Country first time around.  Players loved him because of who he was.  Unless he can rediscover that zest it seems unlikely Gary Johnson will ever reach such peaks again.
Saying all of that, if he’s going to do it anywhere then Huish Park seems as good a place as any.  There was initial concern about his return – “Never go back” they say, but Paul Scholes and Thierry Henry have done so already this month so perhaps Johnson is just following a trend.

Ben finishes this tale with some thoughts on what lies ahead for Yeovil second time around.
The great one is back...
Arsenal and Man Utd fans stop nodding along in agreement, I'm not on about those old boys who have re-signed for you.  In fact, neither Mr Henry or Mr Scholes has a patch on the sensational return of "Sir" Gary Johnson to Yeovil Town.
He didn't exactly ride in on the back of a horse and slay his way through anyone who stood in his way before finally claiming the Manager's office as his own, but it seemed somehow as dramatic.
Johnson and Yeovil carried on apart.  For the Glovers, Steve Thompson, Russell Slade and then Terry Skiverton came and then went, whilst for Gary, Bristol City came so close, Peterborough didn't quite work out and if anyone can explain the Northampton mess then they'll be able to write a book - it almost seems right to see the two come back together.
To see Johnson back, crucially, combined with Terry Skiverton, was a very odd sight - many of us supporters literally had dreamt it.
It seemed like seven years had come and gone almost overnight. His wit and light hearted approach to media responsibilities haven't changed, neither had his ability to drum up a local buzz and we even won a game.
His targets are now different, if we get promoted twice and win a cup in the next six years we'll be a Premier League side.  Let's be honest, that won't happen.
His goal is to keep us in the league this season, and next, and the one after.  In the process the team need to play the sort of football to get the crowd back.  I was convinced we would see less that 3000 people at a Yeovil game this year, half the number we saw the day we lifted the Conference trophy.  Maybe not now.
If he achieves that, he can begin building a team to make strides up League One, and who knows – the play-off campaign of 2007 may no longer be a lucky one-off.
If in the process of all this we can develop a star, or if Gary can find another Arron Davies - a man who eventually earned the club £1m in transfer fees - then the club as a whole will benefit.
He has been at the club for merely a week but already the changes have been rung.  Club captain Paul Wotton has left the club and Bristol City youngster Joe Edwards has made a brilliant start on loan.
Strap yourselves in Yeovil fans, this is going to be fun.”

Fun.  A perfect way to end.  That’s what it’s all about for Gary Johnson.  If he can keep that light burning then this might just be the moment a reputation starts to be rebuilt.  Many in Bristol and further afield will be desperate for that to be the case.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Will Wood be All White on the night?

The recent signing of Chris Wood on loan from West Brom for the rest of the season was seen as something of a coup for City boss Derek McInnes. 
After all, Wood had just completed a successful loan spell at Birmingham where he scored eleven goals in all competitions for the Blues, who were believed to be trying to entice him back for a further spell, whilst Portsmouth were trying to off load Dave Kitson to accommodate the young Kiwi.

An impressive spell on the South Coast at Brighton last season, where he helped them to the League One title with eight goals in 22 starts also bodes well and, at just 20 years old, he's got everything to prove.

Tall, strong men born in Auckland don't often make it into football, but Wood has been living the dream in England for nearly four years now, attempting to join an exclusive club of players from New Zealand to make the grade on these shores.  Rory Fallon and Chris Killen have had good careers, whilst Ryan Nelson has served Blackburn tremendously well in the Premier League, but there's every chance this is a prospect who might just out-do them all and become, in a breath, the most famous player ever to pull on the shirt for the All Whites (yes, really!).

Wood was West Brom's Young Player of the Year in their promotion season of 2009-10 and memorably came close to a famous winner against Italy at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when New Zealand shocked the Azzurri in securing a 1-1 draw.

His performance at Ashton Gate in Derek McInnes' first game in charge clearly left a lasting impression on the Scotsman and Birmingham fans were, on the whole, sorry to see him go.  Their exciting Europa League challenge peaked 'In Bruges' where more than 5,000 fans from England's second city travelled the short distance to Belgium's second city and saw Wood become an instant hero when, after stepping off the bench, he scored a late, late winner in the 10th minute of injury-time which put the club in a strong position to qualify.

Wood firing the winner in Belgium

It wasn't to be, but few tributes to Wood on Twitter the day he arrived in Bristol failed to mention that moment and is clearly a memory that will live long in the hearts.

City's new Corporate Manager, Oli Barton (@OliBarton) is uniquely placed to comment on Wood, having himself arrived at the club from Birmingham in the same week.

I asked him to give me his opinion on the 6'2" striker, and he believes Wood is a good signing.  He also feels it's a great indication of the ambitions at the club as rejected that return to promotion-chasing Birmingham City to come to Ashton Gate.  The disgruntled view from the Midlands was that he wasn't getting starts with them so wanted to go somewhere he's play every week.  Time may tell which view is more accurate.

Wood was West Brom's Young Player of the Season in 2009-10

Oli added "With International, European and Championship experience Chris will bring us a strong presence up front as he is a tough striker to defend against, holding up the ball extremely well and finding himself in the right places for the ball to fall to him.  Chris makes good off-the-ball runs which create goal-scoring opportunities for himself and space for others to run into. 

His goals at Birmingham City in the Championship and Europa League were generated from this quality.  Chris is good in the air and bringing the ball under control."

Birmingham fan Sam Fowler concurs with much of this, specifically highlighting his ability to hold the ball up.

What Wood's signing does is send a couple of signals out about McInnes' intentions. 

Firstly, it is surely, sadly, the end of the road for Jon Stead at City.  One of the key reasons relegation was avoided last time around, Stead looked like he was going to settle in the West having spent most of his career moving on from season to season.  However recent injuries mean he's never had a chance to impress the new manager and clearly hasn't done enough on the training pitch to convince McInnes another tall front-man wasn't required.  It wouldn't be a surprise to see him head back to home town club Huddersfield to boost their promotion challenge.

Secondly it indicates a change in tactics.  City have rarely ventured too far from the centrally-strong 4-5-1/4-2-3-1 formation since McInnes arrived and this set-up has certainly borne fruit.  However, Wood was thrown instantly into the fray at Brighton to play alongside Nicky Maynard and although the performance was poor it seems unlikely with his lack of pace that a solus role up-front would be considered, particularly in home matches where the onus is on City to attack.

What it will also do is require the midfield to break more quickly, something none seem particularly suited to do.  Marvin Elliott looks most likely to benefit from Wood's signing.  Often the first man to get forward, considering opportunities should be plentiful he should get some shooting practice in from 25 yards.

It will be interesting to see whether the tactics change.  McInnes has generally set City up to play a fast, pressing style which utilises the three central midfielders to the maximum with neat passing and possession football.  The temptation to chuck the ball forward quickly has been largely eradicated whilst Maynard was up-front on his own, and the back four should be reminded that this isn't Plan A again now there's a big man to aim for.

However it happens, if Wood can lead the line and score the goals that help to keep City in the Championship he'll be doing himself, and the club, the biggest favour possible.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Monday, 16 January 2012

Moves like Jagger? City fail to keep to the beat

At the start of a busy week for the Exiled Robin, Stuart Radnedge returns with this post-mortem on a desperately disappointing display from the Robins at the Amex Stadium at the weekend. 
A 2-0 defeat only tells half the tale as City were sorely missing any sort of rhythm and mustered only a single, injury-time shot on target on the south coast.

“Taking positives from disappointing results has become something of a past-time for City fans this year.
However under McInnes’ leadership fortunes have changed a little and, more importantly for me, we clearly have a manager who won’t beat around the bush too much in saying what the problems are.
The boss said on the City website after the match that we have to try and generate a tempo that allows us to win games more often than not.
Personally I believe the man is right.  We have general belief from the crowds and the Bristol City Family on Twitter but there has been something amiss again this season – like last.  And that is tempo.
Obviously both this season and the one before started badly and both have seen managers leave long before the half-way marker.
The revival under McInnes has been clear to see, but do we have the players who can generate that match winning tempo that we had in our first season in the Championship?
During that inaugural season I recall witnessing a number of occasions when City should have taken nothing from a game which they created little in – but then there was just one moment of magic and we were on level terms.
With Pearson and Adomah out of the squad on Saturday’s trip to Brighton we clearly missed the pair who feature regularly in our starting line-up creating some of that magic.
New recruits Richard Foster and Chris Wood earned their debuts which the gaffer was happy with, and there appearances from Pitman, Cisse and the smiling assassin (as I like to call him) Yannick Bolasie.
But we created little, as the stats show.  Just one shot on target was all we had to show following 90 minutes of football.  Those types of stats are not the type of tempo that the gaffer wants to see.
A few silver linings, for me, can be drawn from the cloud of Saturday’s two-nil loss away at Brighton.
Getting the debuts for two new singings out the way will do something to address some of the nerves they may have.  And, more importantly, there are no fresh injuries to worry us before the visit of Doncaster to Ashton Gate on Saturday.
You could expect this Saturday’s match to be described as a must win “battle at the bottom” for both teams.  And you would be right - it is a must win.  Before we start drawing out teams in the office Euro 2012 sweepstake we all want to see our team with its’ head above the troubled waters of relegation.
I’m going to be brave and stick my neck out by saying we won’t go down. But we will if we continue to create one shot on target in a match.  Fingers crossed Saturday will see the result we all so desperately want to see."

Follow Stuart on Twitter: @Stu_Radnedge
Follow The Exiled Robin on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Eight Tweeters Tweeting

My latest article from Bristol City's matchday programme, Red Alert: Millwall, Jan 3rd

(Slightly belatedly) At this time of year it seems every publication does some sort of review of the year that was.  To ensure ‘On the Social’ isn’t left out, here is the unofficial review of Twitter and football in 2011.

What happened in 2011?

1)      Tweets, tweets and more tweets:  An explosion in users, particularly those who regularly tweet and an ever-increasing number of journalists, players and officials from across the footballing community.  I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of football clubs – if not all – now have an official account, whilst many also have key personnel such as their press officers, media managers and commercial managers tweeting officially.

2)      Ryan Giggs was outed as a love-rat:  This is probably the story more than any other that raised public awareness of how you can find things out on Twitter that you can’t always via mainstream media.  Whilst Fleet Street and broadcasters were restricted to talking about ‘an unnamed footballer’, Twitter users could be 99% confident they knew who the mystery man was by the sheer volume of tweets on the matter. 

3)      Deserters:  For every 100 new users there are countless others, particularly famous ones who join but quickly disappear from view.  Man Utd’s Darron Gibson was enticed to join by his Old Trafford team-mates but inside just two hours received such a horrendous amount of abuse (much of it from United fans) that he quickly quit.  Former City loanee Stephen Caulker also made a brief appearance but soon disappeared for reasons unknown, whilst Gary Neville sadly decided that a Sky punditry career didn’t fit with an open Twitter account and his often amusing brotherly bickering arguments with Phil (@Fizzer18) ceased. 

4)     Racism: I won’t go into this too much as two previous articles have already covered it but unfortunately it seems that reported on-field incidents have resulted in some deciding they can racially abuse footballers via their computer.  Sadly this is not occurring in small numbers. 

5)      Most popular event:  The overall Twitter record for most tweets per second was amazingly broken twice in the same day by two separate football events, and not necessarily the ones you’d expect.  Whilst the Champions League final between Barcelona and Man Utd trailed behind New Year’s Eve and the Royal Wedding as events of note, on July 17th Brazil’s exit from the Copa America peaked at 7,166 tweets per second worldwide.  This was surprisingly trumped just hours later by a moment few would guess could cause just a stir – the end of the Women’s World Cup.  For the record, the Royal Wedding peaked at just over 6,000, whilst US troops finding and killing Osama Bin Laden managed just 5,200 tweets per second. 

6)     Most tweeted about:  Whereas the event above focuses on a single point in time, over the whole year it’s perhaps unsurprising to find Wayne Rooney top of the list.  The most famous English footballer is naturally going to be a popular topic, especially when that player is on Twitter, has had hair implants, gets sent off and banned from much of Euro 2012 and has a mildly amusing row with X Factor flop Frankie Cocozza.

Second in the list was Fernando Torres, with his poor form for Chelsea a weekly source of gold dust for some of the wittier members of the online community.  The next three are far more random, with ‘Howard Webb’ leading ‘Wembley Stadium’ and ‘Colo Colo’ (a Chilean side) to complete the top 5.  I’d love to explain why, but can't.  Frankly that’s just Twitter! 

7)     Relatively small stories become big news:  The ability of Twitter to transform what would previously have been a small, local story, something that perhaps would merit a single paragraph in the daily national papers into more of a feature has been notable.  Billy Sharp’s celebration after scoring just days after the death of his son, Sir Chris Hoy receiving insults from Tottenham fans who mistook him for referee Chris Foy and Sam Bender, a Colchester player who was on loan at Accrington Stanley and playing in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie when he was knocked unconscious and had to be given a drip whilst still on the pitch are three such stories and there are undoubtedly many many more. 

8)     And finally a more local angle:  For City fans it has been a year in which news about the club has been trending in the UK on a handful of occasions.  Keith Millen trended nationally once the news broke that he was leaving the club, as did Dave Jones and Billy Davies almost instantly as rumours began to surface of who might be appointed his replacement.  David James’ appearance on Football Focus caused a plethora of users to remark whilst more recently our 2-0 win against league leaders Southampton caused ‘Bristol City’ to be in the top 3 trends of the evening, above all the Premier League sides and much to the disgruntlement of many of the Twitter users from the other side of our city! 

The Exiled Robin
Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

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