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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Return of the Three Amigos

The new year dawned with the return to Ashton Gate of a number of City players who had been on loan at various clubs for the past few months. Performances and form in spells of this sort tend to go a little unnoticed so I asked fans of some of the clubs to do a review of the players’ time with their club and give City fans a feel as to how the players performed. Although many came back, I’ve focused on the three that played the most: Two for the future in Joe Edwards and Christian Ribeiro, as well as long-time ‘Marmite’ midfielder Lee Johnson.

Firstly, two views on Johnson. Lee has increasingly found himself on the fringes of the City squad and Neil Kilkenny’s signing in the summer appeared to signal the end of his time at the club, especially when he signed on loan for recently promoted Chesterfield. However sometimes a good loan spell can turn around fortunes so how did Lee get on in Derbyshire?

Dean Mansell (@awayend) is an exiled Chesterfield fan who runs the highly amusing Away End website. If you’ve got a funny story about going to football get in touch with him!
"Lee joined us on loan at the start of the season. Having lost a few key players from our League 2 winning first choice 11, it was hoped he would bring some much needed quality to our midfield in what was always going to be a tough season in a higher division.

My first impressions were with his size, we were obviously not getting a 'kick em into the stands' type midfielder. He liked to get on the ball, pass it and be the link between defence and attack. Unfortunately for Lee, he was often paired with other central midfielders who also liked to play, this has led to a central midfield lacking in bite and struggling to impose itself on the game.

The team have been on a dreadful run and are currently languishing at the bottom of the league. I am convinced if Johnson had been partnered with a ball winning central midfielder, it would have suited him better and the team would have benefited greatly. He is a good player and I will be sad to see him go without us probably seeing the best of him. From talking to fellow supporters, he did divide opinion, but then again at the minute, not many players would be getting a very good half term report!”

I then asked Dean to give Lee a mark out of 10:
“I'd go 7/10. Would have been 8 if not the red card he got at Notts. County in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. We missed him for three games after that including at Hillsborough when we could have done with him!”

Second up with his views on Johnson is Paul Fisher (@thefisherpblog), a freelance reporter who often writes Chesterfield match reports for BBC Sport, amongst others.

"Lee Johnson epitomised exactly what Chesterfield manager John Sheridan wanted with his players, keeping the ball, using it efficiently and getting some others to do the running. Johnson was brought into the Chesterfield side when confidence was at a low. The reigning League Two Champions were yet to win a game, and Johnson – along with Craig Westcarr and Jonathan Grounds – were brought in at the end of a hectic August month. Consecutive wins against Bournemouth, Bury and Carlisle, improved the Spireite’s league position.

Concerns however were discussed at what exactly Johnson brought to the team. He seemed to be too defensive and Chesterfield already had a defensive midfielder in Mark Allott, with Chesterfield fans loathe to see another. On first glances Johnson, having seen him play before for City, was an attacking, quick-footed midfielder who liked to get forward and score goals as he had done for Yeovil. This Lee Johnson was effective but of the negative variety and didn’t offer anything different to what Chesterfield had previously.

When interviewed, Johnson categorically stated that he was a “Championship” player and that he would do his best to stay there. By and large Johnson impressed, but not enough for Spireite fans to be drooling over his next performance. Johnson was also sent off in his loan period, which of your loan players is a bit of a no no. A neat and tidy player and, apart from the aforementioned red card, did nothing wrong, but he didn’t pull up many trees either.

Score out of ten? I’d go with a 7.”

The next player to fall under the spotlight is highly promising defender Christian Ribeiro. A run of injuries have kept Ribs from establishing himself in the City squad and a loan spell in league one at play-off contenders Carlisle United seemed a perfect opportunity for him to get some matches under his belt. So how did he fare?

John McGee (@epouvantail) is a Carlisle fan who runs the fabulously and intriguingly-named Bring me the Head of Keith Mincher website and regularly contributes in his own, portentous style across a range of top football league websites. I wrote this piece for the site when Ribs left for the North West a couple of months ago and John has kindly repaid the favour with this review.

“Right back was the only position we had no cover so summer injury to the USA international Frank Simek was shot with chillingly poetic irony - his initial cover James Tavernier of Newcastle impressed in bursts, enough to earn a spell at Sheffield Wednesday anyway. But he looked raw and inexperienced and left fans pining for our lantern jawed, all American Mr Steady's return. Thus Ribeiro's arrival as, at best, second choice cover saw a little rancour. We need not have shed tears worried.

In those games I've seen at Alfreton and in Monday's game with the Blades Christian has looked calm, assured and extremely talented - and I'm informed by friends he's exhibited this in every single game. He has the look of a player who belongs at a level above League One - his decision making, crossing and defensive nous have meant few have missed a player, in Simek, for whom fans have a genuine fondness. He is a player with excellent awareness of space, an ability to make chances happen and excellent aerial ability for his position.

The best testament to Tavernier was that people saw him as an able short term deputy for Simek. For Ribeiro it's firstly that we all forgot the Premier League greenhorn but more importantly that the terrace chatter even spoke loud their dirtiest thought - 'I think he may even be better than Frank'."

With regard to a mark: “How about an 8 - I'm feeling generous!”


Mark Nicholson (@fromthepaddock) is a loyal Carlisle obsessive and also writes regularly on the club for the Keith Mincher blog.

“After an early season injury to last seasons (almost) ever present Frank Simek, Carlisle United’s only position without any real cover was looking like it might become a concern for Greg Abbott. Newcastle’s James Tavernier was the first loan star to fill the hole and with some barnstorming attacking performances he quickly became a firm favorite over his 3 months with Carlisle United.

Due to the timing of the loan however (with his maximum 3 months ‘emergency’ loan ending mid-November), and perhaps Gary Megson’s patented ‘Good players that used to play for Carlisle™’ scouting shortlist, Tavernier’s return to Brunton Park was almost impossible.

Christian Ribeiro’s timely loan deal therefore was a welcome one among the United faithful. As with seemingly every signing to walk through the front doors at Brunton Park he was portrayed as both a world beater and a terrible player seemingly in tandem by fans of the few clubs who Ribeiro had appeared for. As it turns out, you don’t get 20 youth caps and 2 full caps for your country for nothing.

During a loan spell in which I genuinely can’t recall the classy Welshman even being caught out of position, never mind putting his own team under any real pressure, Ribeiro’s displays were nothing short of superb. Solid defensively, accurate and incisive attacking play, seemingly endless energy and to boot, apparently, an all round nice guy.

It should be obvious to anyone who witnessed any one of Ribeiro’s appearances in a blue shirt that his future certainly lies at a higher level than League 1. I would happily slot him into a Championship side on the evidence of the last 2 months.

Greg Abbott summed the whole situation up when Christian’s loan deal came to an end, "
We needed him to come in and hit the ground running and he did exactly that.” Hit the ground running he did indeed, perhaps better than any loan signing I can remember at Brunton Park and for that a lot of Carlisle United fans will be eternally grateful."

When pushed for a score, Ribs earned himself a top-class 9 out of 10 from this evidently highly impressed supporter, with Mark adding: "From what I've seen he's thoroughly deserving of that. Flirted with an 8, but that almost seems unfair on him.”

So finally onto Joe Edwards, who, with only a sprinkling of first team squad appearances for City is relatively little known amongst the fans and another in need of regular games. He went to Blue Square Premier side Stockport County and Sam Hughes (@SamIanHughes) is a journalist who regularly reports on the club, as well as writing for the sports news website, SportsMole.

“Initially signed by Didi Hamann, Joe Edwards impressed in his month at Edgeley Park with a few confident, incident-free games - leading to him signing on for another month. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury kept him out for a while but once he came back, he then began to really settle down in the first-team.

In terms of technical ability, he was always fairly comfortable on the ball. For a young player, his versatility also stands out as a positive; having played right-back, left-back, centre-midfield and right-wing during his time at the club. He spent most of his time at right-back, so it’s only fair to judge him there. He always attacked with real purpose, linking really well with the midfield – making great use of the space along the flank. His pace is also a real asset, both in attack and defence.
Defensively, though, he did – at times – play naively. Sometimes got beat by the opposing winger too much and often relied on the centre-half to come across and clear the danger. However, that could be put down to his inexperience. Given time, he may well mature and develop that side of his game. Physicality could also be seen as an issue, probably needs to bulk up to handle some of the tougher players in the lower leagues.

Stand-out performances: A 2-2 draw against Stalybridge Celtic - As mentioned earlier, linked extremely well with the midfield and attacked the flank with real purpose. Also, he showed a touch of class with a clever through ball which resulted in winning a penalty.

Also a 3-2 win against Barrow – Again, his attacking ability allowed winger Ryan Fraughan gain space for crosses. His defending also improved – began to look far more composed in terms of positioning and nullifying the threat down the wing.

Overall, a very good acquisition for Stockport County. Miles better than any other right-back at the club. I’d say his current level would be League 2; he isn’t quite ready for regular Championship football yet. Definitely needs to make some improvements to his all-round game. But, if the chance came about again, County would take him back on-loan for another month.”


So what to make of all of this?

To start with, an oft-maligned loan system has clearly been used well in this instance by City and by the clubs at the lower level who have gained invaluable talent for a critical part of the season.

All three appear to have impressed to differing levels and in summary it would appear that, as many might have expected, it is Ribeiro who has the brightest future at Ashton Gate. John and Mark both seemed to struggle not to go too far over the top in their eulogising on Ribs, and this matches other views I’ve read from Welsh football fans who have seen him perform well for the under-21’s. A clear run of fitness is naturally key and at a time where City still appear to be looking for a solid, regular right-back (Skuse’s move forward in the Southampton game indicating that McInnes doesn’t necessarily see him as the long-term option there), it could be a great time for this young Welshman to be returning to BS3. I, along with many others, fervently hope he is given his chance.
Exiled Robin Verdict: One to keep, could be a first-team regular for years to come, if he can stay fit.

Joe Edwards has youth on his side and although playing at a lower level than Ribiero, also seemed to make an impact. He has that little less experience and spells of this sort are critical, especially with the lack of meaningful reserve team games. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him departing again this month, perhaps to a League Two club, giving McInnes the chance to have his scouts watch him in competitive action a few times before perhaps making up his mind on his future in the summer.
Exiled Robin Verdict: Bit more to prove at a Championship club and requires more game time. Could be a useful squad member if he continues to develop.

Lee Johnson is of course well known to everyone and regardless of how well he had performed there would seem to be too many fans bearing grudges to allow him to feature for City again. Always a neat ball-player he would fit well into the system now alongside Cisse & Elliott but Kilkenny is a superior player. Despite his claims that he is a “Championship player”, he didn’t appear to stand out at the lower level and I suspect he might find League One more to his liking in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back at Huish Park with Yeovil Town next season.
Exiled Robin Verdict: A valuable member of our most successful side in decades but has had his time. League One beckons.

                                                                                             Follow me on Twitter @TheExiledRobin

An additional view from an established member of the excellent Two Unfortunates, Scarf, who is a long time Stockport fan and fervent supporter of football.  He has been good enough to add this to the review of Joe Edwards review - yet another promising reflection on the young man's time in Greater Manchester.

"Joe Edwards has performed really well for us and has been a rare shining light in an otherwise dark season.  Tidy in defence and good going forward, he’s played both at right and left back for us and done well in both positions.

We’d really like to keep him for the rest of the season, but I suspect that Derek McInnes will want to have a look at him – I expect to see him making a few appearances in your first team before the end of the season. Not showy, but Edwards is a really good prospect who I expect to have a solid career in the game."


  1. Ribs has always looked good (I thought) when he's played for City, the only problem being his seeming constant injuries. If he can get fit enough to prove himself to McInnes over the rest of the season, I think him, Wilson, & Fontaine would have the potential to form the mainstay of our defensive line for quite some time.

  2. Well done, very good article ;)


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