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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Ephraim, Bikey & Keinan: City's White Knights ride to the rescue

Amidst an ever-foreboding aura of gloom and despair surrounding Ashton Gate, Thursday evening’s creaking shut of the loan transfer window proved considerably more exciting from a Bristol City point of view than the permanent equivalent in January.  True, we didn’t have our top scorer and main headline-grabber leaving us for a couple of million quid, but that was all a bit of an anti-climax anyway for us in the West Country.

This time, taking prominence instead of Maynard’s departure was the arrival of three players in a move that looks certain to be boss Derek McInnes’ final gamble.  With an incessant series of injuries and suspensions in defence – which will be exacerbated again following the credible point at Middlesbrough being earned despite McGivern’s sending off – contributing to a run of form as bad as many can remember, this could be seen as the tough Paisley-man’s equivalent of putting the house on black (or red, for City of course).

A more in-depth analysis of the players brought in certainly proffers the suggestion of dice-rolling with a typically enigmatic creative spark, an ever-so-slightly crazy defender and another who hasn’t started a league match in nearly a year.
Although the defence was the area weakest in terms of personnel, City remain the lowest scorers in the football league despite Jon Stead and Brett Pitman’s best efforts.  Teams have found City are depressingly easy to nullify if they double-up on Albert Adomah, and the severe lack of creativity anywhere in the squad has clearly been identified by McInnes as an area to strengthen, so it was with a some expectation that the first signing was revealed…

HOGAN EPHRAIM by JawadLaouira, passionate QPR fan
“Hogan has been at QPR for over 4 years now and in that time he's shown glimpses of real quality. He believes his best position is playing just off the striker but he has rarely been used in that position. He's been mainly used as a left winger, having the freedom to cut in on his right foot.

His best spell at the club came at the beginning of last season when he was linking up superbly with Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie, playing in a 3 behind Helguson. One particular game stands out when he scored a cracking goal against Middlesbrough at home.
He has superb feet and is technically very good however he can be accused of being a bit too weak on the ball.

He was very unfortunate to miss out on a place in our 25-man squad at the start of the season, especially as the man who took his place, Jason Puncheon hardly featured. He made a Premier League appearance back in August at Goodison Park, came on when we were 1-0 up and showed fantastic spirit and determination to help the team protect their lead.
He's just been awarded a new one year contract extension so this loan spell at Bristol City will be crucial if he has ambitions of forcing his way into the squad for next season.  He could prove to be a very shrewd deadline day signing for City.”

If nothing else is achieved between now and May then at least Ephraim’s goal has yielded a point at Middlesbrough that appeared highly unlikely just a few days ago, and this signing suggests City might now have a chance of scoring enough goals to keep their heads above water.

The second announcement baffled and confused many when initially made, when it was announced that Andre Amougou of Burnley was joining for one month.  A rapid scramble on Google and Wikipedia revealed the new man to be ex-Reading player ‘The artist formerly known as Bikey’, one of Steve Coppell’s many ‘hits’ during his highly successful tenure in Berkshire.

The Tilehurst End, leading Reading blog and fansite, contributed on one of their former Premier League stars:
“Have seen him mark Cristiano Ronaldo out of a game but also have 'mares”
Rob Langham, The Two Unfortunates

“That sums it up perfectly.
Andre Bikey was one of the most skilful defenders we've had at the Madejski Stadium. Unfortunately this aspect of his game was so often undermined by moments of madness that redefined face-palm!
Having earned himself a trial with us during our Premier League days, his first impression was to get sent off in a pre-season tour game in Sweden for head-butting a player, while his last action for Reading was giving away a last minute penalty and getting sent off in the play-off semi-final at Burnley that resulted him literally throwing his shirt to the floor and storming off.


In between all that was another moment of madness where he pushed a stretcher bearer at the African Cup of Nations....
It was quite surprising to see Burnley splash a reported £3.5m to take him to Lancashire and he doesn't seem to have ever lived up to it.

While with Reading he was mostly a centre back but at Burnley he seemed to play more centre midfield, perhaps because he's prone to give the ball away and he can do less damage giving it away in the middle!

Despite his weaknesses he is decent in the air and happy with the ball at his feet and is a very decent player at this level if he keeps his head screwed on.  He's quite quick and if you partner him with somebody big and strong that can marshall the defence he'll thrive.”

As mentioned above, Bikey was identified by Burnley as the sort of player to help them survive in the top-flight and James Bird, co-creator of the simply fabulous independent blog platformfor Burnley FC, No Nay Never added these words on their big-money signing, largely confirming precisely those comments above.
“In the player formerly known as Andre Bikey, Bristol City are acquiring the world's biggest enigma. On his day he is one of the best central defenders in this division and good enough for the step up to the Premiership but some days you wouldn't even let him near your Sunday league side.
He has an uncanny ability to switch between being calm and composed on the ball to being completely lackadaisical. He has incredible strength, evident in his sheer stature, and possesses a neat turn of pace that allows him to match even the quickest of centre forwards. Versatile - he can play at the back or as part of a midfield three as he was used at times during our spell in the Premier League. Yet his biggest weakness is his personality, known to be regularly late to training and games and this inability to care occasionally spilled over onto the pitch.

The biggest highlight in his Burnley career was his goal against Aston Villa in the Premiership and his low point came recently as he consistently didn't perform as we all know he could, was subbed early in games before being omitted from our match day squads altogether.
If he can get his act together he'll be a reliable, strong defender as the Robins battle relegation, if he can't he may just get them relegated.”

Ominous words indeed and the gamble being taken is evident in all of the above.

Cardiff City’s Dekel Keinan was undoubtedly the least-known of the three names but the Israeli international comes highly regarded from across the Severn Bridge.  A productive second half to last season from Keinan helped the Bluebirds into the play-off picture once more, but disappointment was again stumbled upon at the final hurdle.  This led to the departure of Dave Jones and new manager Malky Mackay has tended to stick with his favoured squad members, with those on the fringes struggling to get a chance to stake a claim.

Ben Dudley, writer of the excellent My Only Cardiff offered me this opinion on a promising, if less exciting, sounding signing.
“Keinan joined in the transfer window in January last season and quickly became one of our key players in the race for the top two. As well as solid defending he also offered a goal threat from corners, managing to get on the score-sheet on a couple of occasions.  Of course, we narrowly missed out on promotion (again), a cause not helped by a penalty in the playoffs given away after a reckless foul by Keinan.

He has not featured at all this season aside from one League Cup game, but what has stood out is his professionalism, hard work and commitment. He has trained harder than anyone and should be a big success now he’s being given the chance to play on a regular basis. He could become the key to your survival this season if he reaches his best.”

McInnes’ signings to date have been mixed to say the least so the next few weeks will be intriguing.  If nothing else it will act as a pointer to next season where, with the majority of the old squad out of contract, there is a good chance that almost all of the first 16 named in August will have been signed on the Scotsman’s watch.
There were doubts raised as to the need for the signing of Chris Wood at the time when Jon Stead hadn’t been given a chance this season and these have been borne out a little with the popular Yorkshireman currently keeping the young Kiwi out of the side following a series of typically hard-working displays and an upturn in the team's general goal threat. 

Ricky Foster has much still to prove and is perhaps unlucky that his arrival aligned itself with a horrendous run of defensive performances.  Nevertheless, the constant switching of position (he has played in both full-back positions and on both flanks in just two months) may have been seen as a key attraction initially but points to a manager unclear of his best position, despite shelling out a significant six-figure fee in January.
Stephen Pearson has looked most at home but there have been times where his role is uncertain.  Not tough enough or hard-working enough to strengthen the defensive aspect of the team, nor creative enough to spark the side into action, Pearson has at least contributed with a handful of goals and assists and often looks the most likely to get the team moving to a position on the pitch where they can do some damage.

The names of Andre and Hogan were prominent in WWF a couple of decades ago and City’s newest signings are being thrown into the Championship’s very own Survivor Series, hoping to ensure the Robins aren’t facing the likes of this season’s cup conquerors Swindon and Crawley again in a few months time.
Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

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