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

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Tractor Boys make hay whilst City's sun is setting

One single, lonely point from the last seven games, and that via an injury-time equaliser.
17 (Seventeen) goals conceded in the last six outings.
Form guide: 0-3; 1-3; 0-3; 2-2; 0-3; 0-3
The worst goal difference of all 72 clubs in the entire football league. 
Fewest goals number of scored in the entire football league.

How Bristol City are not adrift at the bottom of the league is quite remarkable when those statistics are absorbed? 

If I wasn't already worried about City's prospects this season then I am now.  Even Portsmouth's financial woes which, with the removal of 10 of their hard-earned points seemed at the time a personal silver lining in a sad tale, now appear to be the opposite of a blessing in disguise.  A glance at the table as it would stand if Pompey went out of business in the week showed City 3rd bottom and just two points ahead of the revised relegation spots.  If a point is somehow miraculously gained at Fratton Park later this month City fans would do well to boost the coffers with as much money as they can find as it's in our interests to keep the club chiming until May.

When I asked Ipswich fan Gavin Barber (@GavinBarber), author of two of my favourite pieces for the excellent The Seventy Two (on the Transfer Window and their Media Week), to write a little on City's early Springtime sojourn into Suffolk I was hopeful he would be forced to articulate a plucky or perhaps even resurgent performance from the Robins.

Alas, Gavin's insight after just 90 or so minutes watching our boys is, in my view, a highly accurate microcosm of the last two months in particular.  Read and enjoy, because although it ain't pretty, it's poignant and accomplished, with the second paragraph in particular shedding an independent light on the current persona of this lacklustre side.

"I don't want to sound patronising, but I like Bristol City and want them to do well. This is mainly because I've always found Ashton Gate a friendly, honest sort of a place: enough passion to make it feel like a proper football ground but without ever feeling threatening or unpleasant - at least not when I've ever been there. My affection was cemented on the opening day of the season back in August, when my son was the Ipswich mascot. Bristol City couldn't have been more friendly: everyone we met made us feel welcome and relaxed. A proper football club, as Roy Keane might have put it.

Which makes it all the more awkward to report on City's performance at Portman Road today. I think the kindest thing I can say is that City looked like a side lacking in confidence. Actually, that's something of an understatement. They looked like a side whose sense of self-worth had been thoroughly shot to pieces: a team of cuckolded lovers wearily going through the motions of a speed-dating evening that their friends thought would be a really good idea but which actually made them feel a bit worse and a bit more lonely and they'd rather have been at home watching Coronation Street.

City began with Jon Stead on his own up front. Stead was under-rated in some quarters during his time at Portman Road, but was always more of a threat than he might at first have appeared, and a willing worker to boot: thinking back to that game in August I recall noticing how much of Nicky Maynard's running he was doing, in addition to his own. Shorn of Maynard's skills alongside him, Stead was very isolated. Albert Adomah struggled to get behind Ipswich's less-than-watertight defence and Neil Kilkenny seemed more interested in shouting at people than contributing anything useful. His early replacement, Chris Wood, also found it hard to make an impact, even when pushed further forward in the second half.

City's opening gambit was to defend high up the pitch in the hope of catching Chopra offside, and to neutralise the threat of Ipswich's second striker Lee Martin. This worked up to a point: that point being the moment when City realised that Town's wide man Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was in the mood to give it the skillz: performing step-overs at will and shooting from distance whenever he got the chance, much to David James' evident frustration. This left City double and sometimes triple-marking him, leaving Martin with the freedom that he needed to set up Chopra's opening goal.

In truth, Town should have been out of sight by half-time. James made two or three excellent saves having been routinely exposed by the increasingly confused defence in front of him. At the other end, McCarthy tipped over a Fontaine shot after some poor defending from the home side, but in truth City offered nothing in attack. Pearson and Davis seemed unwilling to push forward in support of the front players, and McInnes' tactics had left the midfield area too crowded to allow any time or space for Adomah or his replacement Bolaise to get into the game. Town's full-backs, meanwhile, had so much freedom to push forward that Carlos Edwards, in particular, was practically playing as a right winger for much of the first half.

Having kept it to 1-0 at the break, City returned with a bit more purpose but little inspiration. Town's attacking instincts were frustrated but again there was little to trouble a defence (and goalkeeper) who have the propensity to get rattled at even the slightest hint of pace or movement. City's frustration over the confusing award of the corner which led to Town's second goal was understandable, but that doesn't excuse the lack of concentration which allowed Tommy Smith to score from it.

A brief flurry of shots on McCarthy's goal preceded Andy Drury's splendid third goal, and that was that. Talking to a Bristol City fan after the game it was hard not to concur with his sense of doom about the rest of the season: McInnes' side may frustrate a few opponents between now and May but it's difficult to see where the goals will come from. Relying on the failures of Coventry, Doncaster and Portsmouth may not be living the Championship dream, but speaking as an Ipswich fan I'm very much hoping that, whether through improvements of your own or through catastrophes befalling others, we get another chance to visit Ashton Gate next season."

One of the key points I picked up from this was the tactical view.  If you're going to set a team up to swamp midfield then you've got to control it because it means you haven't got enough manpower elsewhere to adequately perform. 

I'm not going to get into the formation debate here (that's one for another day) but one thing is for sure: if you're playing five in midfield you do it to protect your defence, reluctantly surrendering flowing attacking threat.  17 goals in six games mean this tactic simply isn't working and something has got to change.  If you're playing three up-front then it's to score goals at the risk of being leaky at the back.  Well, that isn't working either.


Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

2 comments:

  1. Excellent and honest post. As much as I have faith in Del I think he'd be wise in being directed to this blog.

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  2. Great post. This is spot on. It seems as though through sticking to this negative formation Del is saying the players here are not good enough, (An opinion I currently share for about 3/4 of the team), and that our priority must be to suffocate the midfield in order to stop condeding goals (although recent performances show this is clearly not working). Unless we switch to a more attacking 442 or 433 formation in order to accomodate Pitman I can't see where any goals are going to come from now to the end of the season. This will no doubt leak goals but at least will provide better goalscoring opportunities. I still have faith that Del can turn this around but these problems need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

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