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

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Paul Anderson - can he finally fulfil his potential?

A couple of weeks ago I asked three Nottingham Forest fans to give a view on our new signing Greg Cunningham.  The result was a resounding thumbs-up, a player they all had wished had returned to The City Ground following his loan spell last season.

Derek McInnes has raided the former European Champions again, this time for permanent employee Paul Anderson, a winger who has dotted around league one and the Championship, often threatening to make an impact sufficient enough to earn a really big move, but without ever quite managing to maintain form on a consistent basis.

So, how do the three Forest fans view City's signing of Anderson?  A perfect foil for Cunningham? A player to unlock the tightest of defences, or another once bright young prospect who sadly looks as if he'll never really make it in the top two divisions?

Peter Blackburn @petermblackburn
Peter is a trainee journalist and indicates City have a player who, given a chance, might just be a big success
"When considering Paul Anderson’s time at Nottingham Forest, it is difficult to shake off the overwhelming feeling that we never really knew him at all.
Having arrived amid fanfare and with the well wishes of many disappointed Liverpool fans who felt he could have been a success at Anfield, big things were expected of Anderson in a Forest shirt.
Despite the promise though, Anderson struggled to show his talent on a regular basis. During heady years under Billy Davies, the former Liverpool man did a job on both wings; Working hard, showing flashes of pace and grabbing the occasional goal. Success was relatively sparse though – Anderson struggled to show consistent form and persistent minor injuries seemed to rob him of the confidence to run at his man.
At his best, in Forest’s first playoff season under Billy Davies, Anderson was a good player to have around – perhaps not in an enigmatic and flair-driven sense that is often hoped for in a winger – but showed that he is a relatively ever-present fully committed and decent footballer.
Above all else, Anderson’s plus points lie in his character. Without doubt a player with a genuine work ethic and desire to work toward the common cause, the very minimum that Bristol City can expect is a versatile, reliable signing with the potential to contribute to decent football.
However, there is more to be gained from Paul Anderson. Underneath the quiet exterior lies a player of technique, pace and ability –should Derek McInnes be able to coax some confidence out of him, Bristol City could have made a signing of some quality."

Steve Wright@Mistrollingin
Steve writes his own excellent website - My Life in Football

"Paul Anderson is one of those players who splits opinion, but whilst some are still convinced that there is a talented footballer in there who can be nurtured into a dangerous Championship winger most have given up hope of ever seeing it happen.

When he arrived at the City Ground from Liverpool, having performed well whilst on loan at Swansea, he seemed like an exciting attacking prospect who would run defenders ragged with pace and skill.

Billy Davies was never a man for carrying flair though and having played with attacking license and little defensive responsibility in Wales suddenly he was expected to cover the ground of a marauding wing back.

This determination of the manager to ensure that all of his team would put in a shift stilted all the good things that Anderson had to offer and although he did what he was told with admirable commitment he was no longer seen taking on his full back and dominating the attacking third.

Whilst some will question his final product and point to long periods spent on the treatment table, I cannot help but think that in the right environment he can rediscover his enjoyment of the game that unsurprisingly flourished in the free flowing football of The Liberty Stadium."

James Bolton @Bolton0301
James runs the Forest website View from the Main Stand

"Paul Anderson’s career at Forest was one of two halves. He impressed during a loan spell in the 2008/09 season and made a permanent switch from Liverpool the following summer.

The 2009/10 season was Anderson’s best in Forest colours. He was a regular, making 44 appearances, bagging 5 goals. He put in fine displays at home to Leicester City and away at Sheffield Wednesday and really did look like a young player with a lot of promise.

Although an increased number came from the bench, Anderson still made 39 appearances for Forest during the 2010/11 season, scoring 4 times. It was however becoming increasingly difficult for him to recreate his form from the previous year and sadly, when he isn’t on form, he is an incredibly frustrating player to have to watch.

The 2011/12 season was dogged with injuries, as he experienced two separate layoffs each lasting over 3 months. This coupled with the emergence of Garath McCleary as first choice right winger meant Anderson’s opportunities were seriously limited and a future at Forest looked unlikely.

He is a decent free transfer and has proved he can perform at this level, although he hasn’t done so for two seasons. His biggest asset is his pace, which he has a lot of, he just needs to learn to do something with it. He is seriously lacking in strength, void of ideas when running with the ball and is missing that final product or cross which sets you apart as a winger. At times, it was hard to find a better word than ‘useless’ to describe his almost non-existent performances. I do hope he regains some form though, because he always ran his socks off for us. Hopefully a change of scenery will do that for him, but it might not be easy viewing."

So, who is the real Paul Anderson?  Is it a case that he hasn't fulfilled his undoubted potential or perhaps just wasn't offered enough freedom in a defensive, hard-working Forest team?  What does seem certain is that he is no Albert Adomah - it doesn't appear as if we will see lots of flicks, tricks and flair, but perhaps could offer that balance on the left flank that City struggled to achieve last season too often and allow Stephen Pearson to slot in more centrally, where he potentially is more effective.

Whatever the outcome, McInnes has added yet more pace and another 20-something player to the squad - a fresh face with something to prove - and is undoubtedly now forming the squad into the style he envisions.

Bristol City are Heaton up!

Firstly apologies for the title of this article.  I don't normally indulge in tabloid style attention grabbers but I simply couldn't resist!

The signing of a goalkeeper for City was hardly the biggest of summer surprises, it having been a position manager Derek McInnes had earmarked following the departure of David James, who left in May following his mixed two year pit-stop in BS3.

The question really surrounded whether McInnes was after a number two - as cover for Dean Gerken, perhaps a young up-and-coming star - or a more genuine challenge for the number one jersey.  My belief is that Tom Heaton falls firmly into the latter category.

The former Manchester united starlet has spent a couple of years across the Severn Bridge at rivals Cardiff City, but has largely had to make do with the occasional appearance as cover for first-choice David Marshall, and was first-choice for their Carling Cup games.  Now if that had been his situation at Ashton Gate he wouldn't have managed many games, but Cardiff have proven particularly efficient in cup competitions in recent years, and of course last season, Heaton's performances helped the then-Bluebirds to Wembley, with a series of penalty shoot-out wins eventually coming to an end against Liverpool in the final, but not before Heaton had saved Steven Gerrard's spot-kick.

So what sort of player have City signed, will he be getting more splinters from the bench or is he likely to be wearing number one at The City Ground on August 18th?

I asked Cardiff fan Joe Harrison to offer a view on Heaton, and he kindly agreed, offering the following:

"The first point to make is the most important: I think Tom Heaton should prove a very solid signing for Bristol City and is a more than capable number one for the Robins. His most prominent moments for Cardiff came in last year’s run to the Carling Cup Final – famously saving two of Crystal Palace’s penalties in the semi-final, before brilliantly denying from Steven Gerrard in the Wembley shoot-out; albeit an effort ultimately in vain.

However, he did spend almost the entirety of the Bluebirds’ league season watching on from the sidelines as Malky Mackay established David Marshall as his first choice. Heaton was unlucky in this: not because he is better than Marshall (I personally think that Marshall is a superior player), but because he is a good enough goalkeeper to be first choice for the majority of teams at Championship level.

In terms of specifics, I feel Heaton’s main strength (apart from his penalty saving, of course!) is his all-round solidity – no area of his game is a particular or glaring weakness, although his stature can mean he is less than commanding when dealing with crosses. Conversely, this strength could also be his weakness: though he has no great weaknesses, it could be argued that he similarly does not possess any truly outstanding traits.

Personally, his shot-stopping has always been a slight concern; while he rarely makes a glaring error leading to a goal, he doesn’t often make saves beyond those you would expect most goalkeepers to make. His footwork is also questionable on occasion, leaving him flatfooted and beaten by seemingly slow, looping efforts on goal.

These notes are perhaps overly critical though, not only do I know a number of Cardiff fans who rate him more highly than I do, but these minor criticisms should not obscure the fact that he is a goalkeeper of proven Championship pedigree, one who I expect to be viewed as a bargain for Bristol City on a free transfer."

So it appears on the face of it as if we have picked up another solid player.  At 6ft 3" he certainly should seem commanding enough, and that's an area not too many City 'keepers have excelled at over the years.  One of David James' apparent strengths was his ability to organise and use his experience, although that looked to be curiously missing for large parts of his sojourn.

Heaton is 26 but relatively inexperienced, even though TeamGB manager Stuart Pearce saw enough in him to substitute Joe Hart and bring Heaton on for England under-21's a few seasons ago.  Maybe this is a goalkeeper simply in need of games to prove his worth, and maybe we'll be just the team to do that.

Let's hope Heaton's deal will be extended next summer - he's only signed for an initial season - because that will almost certainly mean he, and City, have been relatively successful.

Thanks again to Joe for his views, you can follow him on Twitter here:

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Bristol City Academy: Interview with Trevor Challis

The Bristol City Youth academy has often promised much and delivered, arguably, disappointingly.  That was certainly the impression given by the club this summer with a revamp ordered by Derek McInnes, frustrated at the lack of options available to him.

In the first of a couple of articles on the youth set-up at City, guest writer Lee Molland got in touch with ex Bristol Roversfullback Trevor Challis and got a fascinating insight into some of the workings of City's Academy and what happens behind the scenes.

Hi Trevor, thank you for agreeing to chat to us today, can we start by asking you about your professional background and how you’ve ended up at Bristol City?
I played football from very young age and trained at Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers as a child and signed professional forms for Q.P.R. at 18.  I made my first team debut at 20, playing 14 times in the Premier League 1995-96 season. I played for England at under-16, under-18 and under-21’s.  I spent seven years at Q.P.R.,  then moved to Bristol Rovers with Ian Holloway.  After my time there I then played for Telford United, Shrewsbury, Weymouth and Eastleigh.
I ended up coaching at City because I had an interest in coaching as my career was ending.  I wanted to coach children at the highest level and in the South West that team is Bristol City.  I coached the under-13 age group, then the under-14 ‘s.  The then Head of Recruitment Kevin Scott left for Stoke City and I applied for the vacant position and got the role.

What is your role within the Academy set up?
I am the Head of Academy Recruitment which means I lead a team of recruitment officers in the South West to watch and monitor the best young footballers and try to ensure they sign for City ahead of our rivals.  I also oversee the running of our development centres in Monmouth, Gloucester, Wiltshire and Bristol.

Talk us through the restructure of the Academy and what the Elite Player Performance Plan means? How will this benefit young want to be footballers?
There have been huge changes in the academies in England with more investment from the Premier League (around £300 million) being invested in youth football.  With this investment the Premier League wants to see more accountability in academies with four different level of academy.
Level 1 academies can now recruit into their academies nationwide and have to have the best elite facilities for the boys to train at.  This includes outdoor and indoor astroturf, classrooms for day release training, hydrotherapy pools etc.
Level 2 academies (the level Bristol City are in) can only recruit boys within a 1½ hour drive which is regionalised, but also have to provide facilities for schooling.
The variance is shown by the fact that Level 4 academies can now only recruit boys at under-16 age level for youth team football.
The benefits for the boys will be an investment in better facilities, and more coaching contact time with the implementation of the day release programme at all age groups.

What are the facilities like at the Failand Training ground?
The facilities are good at Failand with the best grass pitches in the South West for academy football.  The club own four pitches which the first team train on daily, and a pitch for the under-18’s and under-16’s.
The schoolboy pitches are leased from QEH school, as are the changing rooms which isn’t ideal as there is no gym or any indoor coaching areas.

How often do the boys train and to what standard of coaching?
The hours the boys train increase as the boys get older.  The under-9 age group train for 1½ hours, three times a week, and play competitive games on a Sunday. The same hours apply for the under-10 and under-11’s.
The under-12 to under-16’s train three times per week for two hours and play competitive football on a Saturday and Sunday. The coaching the boys receive is excellent with all coaches having a UEFA B licence as a minimum.

What are your thoughts on the standard of children playing in youth football?
The standard varies across the board, with the better being in the younger age groups (under-8 to under-11).  We generally find the standards drop the older the boys become, and it is a lot harder to pick an academy standard boy in the under-12 to under-16 age groups.  This is because the standard of coaching the boys receive at junior football is not as elite as that received by the boys at the academy and bad habits generally creep into the boys games.

What age do the boys first come into the academy?
We start recruiting the boys at 6 years old, this is called the pre academy group (6-8). The importance of recruiting the best boys at 8 means the foundation coaches can implement their syllabus with the most co-ordinated and elite boys, whilst the academy now goes up to 21 for the first time this season.

How far does your scouting network reach out?
I personally have contacts based in London and the Midlands who recommend boys to Bristol City, especially at under-16 level and above.  In our region we have teams of scouts who work in South Wales, Gloucester, Wiltshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and, of course, Bristol.

What hope can you give the local boys of being spotted?
The scout will look at technical ability, but will first and foremost look at the boys character and desire to work, listen and learn, we call this dogmatic.  Without this willingness to work hard in a game we will see a boy who will be probably a poor trainer without the ability to learn (fixed mindset), so we look for the boy with the open mindset.

What are your hopes for the future of the Academy?
With our new facilities at Filton College, the increase of staffing and the increase in coaching contact time as well as finance it is a very exciting time to be involved at the Bristol city Academy.  We hope to have more boys being promoted into the 1st team and we believe over the next 2-4 years it could potentially be a very exciting time for youth development.

Many thanks to both Lee and Trevor for this interview, and let's hope the anticipation Trevor has for the next few years bears fruit and can start to bring youngsters - ideally locally born and bred - into City's first team.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin


Lies, damned lies and statistics: Bristol City

Is this the truth behind City's season?

As any of you who follow me on Twitter will know, I follow many people with a different take on football and take great pleasure in retweeting the best and most interesting.  Most of these probably pass by relatively unnoticed, as so much on Twitter probably does due to the way the timeline works and the number of people everyone follows, but one in particular caught the imagination last year.

City were unknowingly coming to the end of their worst run of the season – and that’s saying something considering the start we made! – but when I retweeted this article by Ben Mayhew - it had more reaction than to any other I can recall.

If a dose of reality was required – although to be honest right at that time it really wasn’t – then these charts brought them home.  Poor in front of goal, yes.  The worst in the entire league…blimey!

The interest shown in the charts leapt back into my consciousness when I saw the site’s proprietor had done a review of Nottingham Forest’s season recently.  When I approached him to do the same with City and he accepted, I have been eagerly anticipating the results ever since.

So here it is, a fantastic piece of analysis and commentary, with many thanks to Ben:

Over at Experimental 361, I’ve developed a graph to visualise and compare teams’ attacking and defensive performance, which I’ll be using here to briefly analyse Bristol City’s season.

In a convoluted nutshell, the horizontal axis measures the average number of goal attempts a team either creates or faces in a match, while the vertical shows how many shots it takes on average for a goal to be either scored or conceded. These are quite simple metrics, but used together they can be quite revealing (as this post will hopefully demonstrate).

I’ve used it below to plot out City’s attacking (green) and defensive (red) performance, split by (H) Home, (A) Away and (O) Overall. The axes are centred on the average values for the Football League, which allows us to split the graph into quadrants (which I’ve labelled).

What's immediately evident is that while creating chances isn't a problem for the Robins, converting them certainly is. You'll no doubt be aware that this was a particularly low-scoring season for City, and here's the reason why: overall they took 3 additional shots to score each goal than the average Football League team. This would be fine if they were taking 3 more shots than most other teams, but the picture shows that the number of chances they create is only slightly over average for the division. As you'd expect, the team are better at both generating and converting shots on goal at home and this disparity is well within the normal range. The focus for next season simply has to be on improving finishing and / or creating more clear-cut chances, although there is some cause for optimism which I'll touch on later.

While the defence overall looks to be creeping into the worst quadrant, particularly in terms of the number of shots faced, it's interesting to see what happens when the home and away records are split out. At home, City are slightly better than average at restricting the number of shots the opposition have, but the ones that do get through are more likely to go in. In away games, they allowed the opposition to come at them a lot more, facing more than 3 extra shots per game than the average side, but repelled a larger proportion of these. Given that the overall resilience is hardly different from the League average, I'd say the coaching staff should focus on closing down the opposition a bit better to reduce the number of shots at the City goal.

Pre- and post-McInnes
It was suggested that I look at the impact of Derek McInnes' appointment, given the dire state of affairs when he joined the club, so here is the same graph split to show performance pre and post his arrival:

The attacking woes McInnes inherited are starkly visible here in the darker green - the eagle-eyed among you will notice that I even had to extend the vertical axis to accommodate the extreme home profligacy! Needing almost 23 shots to score each home goal massively skews this distribution and shows that the Robins figuratively couldn't buy a goal at Ashton Gate in the first few months of the season, despite fashioning a very respectable number of shots on goal. Whether this was down to the quality of the chances or some very nervous finishing I don't know, but the improvement under McInnes was revelatory. At home the efficiency of the strike force more than doubled which, despite a slight deterioration in away games, is a remarkable achievement. If you ignore the pre-McInnes stats, the attacking picture looks a lot less bleak and suggests that if the initial improvements made during his reign continue then the Robins can expect a much more cheerful campaign next season. He improved the team's resilience at the back too, with the team soaking up an average of 3 extra shots for each goal they conceded. They'll have to watch the number of shots they face away from home though, as the Championship's more clinical attacks won't need 14 shots to find a way through most defences.

Summing up
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never watched Bristol City play, which in addition to leaving a gaping void in my soul also prevents me from interpreting these graphs using detailed knowledge of the team’s qualities and foibles this season. Please feel free to weigh in with your infinitely more informed interpretations in the comments section below.

So there you have it, if you weren't clear on where City's failings were and what had improved since McInnes took over then hopefully that's clarified a little for you?  I think the information is fascinating and I suppose the fact that we're at such an extreme end of the attacking chart in particular it probably won't surprise too many.

The improvemens made since McInnes took over are shown quite clearly, with the attack in particular becoming more of a threat and very much moving in the right direction from the extreme 'worst-in-the-league' status it did hold, whilst the defence has also marginally improved and looks to be becoming more solid.

However, there remains plenty of work to do and Ben promises much more content on his site next year, so it will be interesting to see how things move on next season.

If you've enjoyed this you can check out Ben's site here and follow him on Twitter by clicking here and please leave a comment so Ben or myself can respond.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Greg Cunningham: What can Bristol City expect?

The Exiled Robin

The signing of left-back Greg Cunningham on Thursday was arguably Bristol City’s most long-awaited incoming transfer.  Ever since our fateful trip to Wembley four years ago, fans have been acutely aware of the lack of any cover for Jamie McAllister in this position, and despite successive managers making the right noises no suitable cover, or, indeed as is now required, replacement has ever been sourced. 

Mystifyingly it has seemed remarkably complex to sign someone to play in this position so let’s hope we have just found ourselves a new hero to play in the relatively ‘cult’ number three shirt.  Martin Scott, Mickey Bell and Darren Barnard have all been hero-worshipped by the Ashton Gate faithful to varying degrees in the past twenty years, so can the young Irishman become an established first-team performer?

Although a Manchester City player, Cunningham’s only sightings for the new Champions of England were 45 minutes against Scunthorpe in an FA Cup tie and an injury-time Premier League bow a couple of seasons ago.  His more accessible viewings have been at Championship level, with first Leicester (before a serious injury cut short his time there) and then at their East Midlands rivals from Nottingham.

Initial reactions are positive.  Upon his signing a quick conversation with my Dad recalled how he had caught the eye in the home game with Forest last season, comfortably marking Albert Adomah out of the match and providing a threat when in possession of the ball.  And to back this up I sought the views of some of the City Ground’s faithful to offer their opinion. 

Steve Wright @Mistrollingin

Steve writes his own excellent website and his amazingly in-depth view on the financial roller-coaster Forest have suffered for the past twelve years under the late Nigel Doughty’s stewardship is particularly worth a read if you’re that way inclined!

“In these days of undisclosed transfer fees it is difficult to know for certain whether Greg Cunningham’s move to Bristol City represents good value but if we take the club’s declaration that it represents a “great financial deal” at face value then they could well have made a very shrewd move.
That is not to say that Cunningham is an outstanding defender but he is established at Championship level, following a successful loan spell at Nottingham Forest, despite being only 21 years of age and as a Forest fan I certainly see this as an opportunity lost for my own club which remains hamstrung in the transfer market due to a protracted takeover.
Cunningham is an attacking left sided defender who takes every opportunity to get forward, which makes him my type of full back. At Forest he provided the perfect balance to like-minded right back Chris Gunter in a similar, if admittedly less impressive, manner to Ryan Bertrand who also spent time covering this troublesome position on loan.
Although he isn’t in the same class as Bertrand he is certainly comfortable at this level and with time very much on his side he should improve further as a result of a settled, permanent move at a time when he should be able to cement a regular first team slot. Fans of The Robins should see this as a positive transfer for both the short and longer terms, the sort of move I hope that Forest will make once the ownership saga finally comes to an end.”

James Bolton @Bolton0301
James runs the Forest website View from the Main Stand
“As a Forest fan we’re rather deprived of left backs, so when Greg Cunningham signed for us on an emergency loan back in October, which was later extended till the end of the season, we were really rather pleased.
Greg settled in really well when he first arrived. Despite an injury the previous season and not having played too much competitive football, he slotted right in. He made an impressive debut against Hull City, and built on that performance the following week versus Reading.
What was crucial for him and us as a team was the strong partnership he forged with Andy Reid down the left wing. I’d imagine under a similarly consistent partnership at Bristol City, he will also flourish.
He is fairly quick, not afraid to overlap and get forward and delivers a good cross. Aerially he is pretty sound, although he could do with building up some strength and his positional sense does need some work. He seemed to have a habit of wandering inside leaving room for opposition right wingers, which has led to goals. He was prone to the odd bad game, but the majority of his performances in a Forest shirt were strong.
I really do think Bristol City made a cracking signing. He seemed very keen to find first team football and did an really well at Forest, so much so, a lot of our fans (including me) feel we’ve missed out on a talented young player who will no doubt be a very good long term signing.”

Peter Blackburn @petermblackburn
Peter is a trainee journalist and his view seems to simply back up the assertion that City have pulled off a bit of a coup with their latest signing
“Greg Cunningham arrived at Nottingham Forest with little pressure upon him. The latest short-term answer to a long-term problem at left-back, the former Manchester City youngster’s predecessors included Ryan Bertrand, Nicky Shorey and Paul Konchesky – all loan arrivals who performed to varying levels. As such, Forest fans have got used to putting up with players playing out of position, and moving from one new left-back to another to get from one game to the next.
Cunningham’s signing was greeted with praise from Leicester City fans, where he had been on loan the prior season until a horrific injury cut his time short there and during early games it seemed that the Irishman was yet to fully recover from such a long time out.
It is never easy for a young player, and particularly a young player only with a club on a temporary basis, to settle in and perform at a club playing so poorly and facing a grim relegation battle – Cunningham was no different and looked a little lightweight and out of his depth in such a difficult situation.
However, as the season went on, Cunningham looked a stronger and better player and eventually kept George Elokobi – another loanee left back – out of the team, forming a formidable and highly productive left flank partnership with Andy Reid.
Cunningham is clearly still on the comeback from an injury that proved a major setback to his career but now looks an accomplished full back both defensively and going forward. Quick, skilful and comfortable on the ball, he could become a left back of comfortable Premier League pedigree given time and good management.
Forest fans would have been lucky, and delighted, to have Cunningham return to the club and no doubt that Bristol City are gaining greatly from this signing.”

All in all a resounding thumbs up from the fans he entertained last season.  Indeed, the fact all three expressed their disappointment that Forest – who undoubtedly have play-off aspirations despite last season’s struggles – hadn’t made Cunningham their player on a permanent basis speaks volumes.

There are two thoughts though to slightly dampen expectations.  Firstly, Cunningham is still young and has far to go.  Many a young player has a good half-season or season but struggles to reproduce that form, especially when a change of scene has occurred in between.

Secondly, although it’s often the only way to get a feeling on a young player's ability, loan form should always be taken with a pinch of salt.  Players are out to earn moves or a new contract, they’re keen, motivated and eager to succeed and it will be McInnes’ job to ensure Cunningham arrives at Ashton Gate with the same desire as he clearly showed during his spell at the City Ground.

Whatever happens, at least – for the first time in a while - City seem to have a left-back to get excited about.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Welcome to the Championship (6/6): Wolverhampton Wanderers

The final episode of the Exiled Robin’s series of six posts introducing you to the Championship’s newest members focuses on perhaps the most familiar of all to City fans, with regular clashes against Wolves over the past 10-15 years.


Find other posts in the series here:

Welcome to the Championship (1/6): Blackburn Rovers

Welcome to the Championship (2/6): Sheffield Wednesday

Welcome to the Championship (3/6): Charlton Athletic

Welcome to the Championship (4/6): Bolton Wanderers

Welcome to the Championship (5/6): Huddersfield Town

About……Wolverhampton Wanderers
Nickname: ‘Wolves’        Manager: Stale Solbakken

Play at: Molineux, 99 miles from Ashton Gate
Capacity: 31,500; Last Season Avg Attendance: 25,682

Interesting Facts:  Wolves led the way in many aspects seen as standard in the modern game – although others had dabbled, Wolves hosted a series of floodlit matches against illustrious European opponents and were shown live on the BBC, paving the way for regular evening matches, European competition and regular televised football >>> Wolves were proclaimed ‘Champions of the World’ when they defeated Puskas’ Magyars in 1954 >>> Wolves followed Manchester United’s Busby Babes as the second English team to enter the European Cup in 1959 >>> Wolves followed City as only the second club to suffer three successive relegations from top to bottom of the football league in the mid 1980’s
Notable match vs City: City 1 Wolves 6, 7th November 1998
Not just the scoreline was notable…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQokPUt8J8g
2012-13 Fixtures: 1st Dec (H), 16th Mar (A)

Graham is always looking for other fans to write and connect with so follow him on Twitter if you want to get in touch.  Ex-City favourite Terry Connor was given the unenviable task of saving Wolves from near certain relegation last season but couldn’t produce miracles, but as Graham explains it’s not all doom and gloom in the Black Country

How are you feeling about playing in the Championship, a few weeks following your relegation?
Playing in the Championship doesn’t actually bother me too much. I’ve been watching Wolves since 1990 and, with the exception of four seasons in the Premier League, that time has been spent in the second tier. In some ways it’s more like a homecoming than relegation.

What does your club bring to a tight, competitive and entertaining division?
Experienced heads; players and staff who know the division inside out. We’ve since added an extra dimension with the appointment of Stale Solbakken, all eyes will be on Wolves this season as it’s a very interesting gamble.

What style of football/formation do you play?
It’s become increasingly difficult to second guess Wolves in recent years when it comes to tactics. Even in the season we won the league, our style of play was bereft of consistency – one week we’d play free-flowing football, the next it would be long ball. Towards the end of 2011-12 I remember Danny Kelly saying the biggest problem with Wolves is their lack of identity.

Now, Solbakken has come in and has the opportunity to create an identity which we have desperately missed under Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor. At Copenhagen, his team started games by playing 4-4-2, but were able to change their formation in a heartbeat to a 4-2-2-2 or 4-5-1 setup. The tactical flexibility made them notoriously difficult to beat, and Wolves fans will be hoping he can replicate this formula in the Championship.

Who are the star players we should all look out for?
At the moment, we still have Matt Jarvis and Steven Fletcher at the club – although, I don’t think they will be for much longer. If either were to stay, they would definitely be the focal point of Wolves’ promotion push.

More realistically, I can see Michael Kightly (as also predicted in this excellent take on Wolves’ situation on the excellent Two Unfortunates site http://thetwounfortunates.com/no-oblivion-for-wolves/) and Jamie O’Hara playing huge roles next season. Plus there is the impending arrival of Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson – a very exciting prospect from Lillestrom.

And is there an up-and-coming future star in your midst?
One of the few pleasing things to come out of last season was seeing some of the youth players get a chance. David Davis slotted into our midfield towards the end of the season, and looked like he had played there for years. Anthony Forde, an Irish winger, was given some game time and looked fairly competent. Matt Doherty looked good at right back against Liverpool, and Johnny Gorman got five minutes of action away at Norwich. But, there are two standout prospects for me.

The first is Danny Batth, who will be looking to break into the first team at Molineux following an impressive season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday. At 6’3” Batth is a commanding centre back, who is good in the air and is able to read the game very well. He is exactly the type of defender Wolves have lacked in recent years, and I hope he gets his chance.

The second is Jake Cassidy, a 19-year-old Welsh striker who joined Wolves for a nominal fee in 2010. Cassidy made a huge impact in League One last season during a loan spell at Tranmere, scoring five times in ten appearances. Tranmere’s fans were hugely impressed with his pace and lethal finishing ability, and Solbakken has stated that he age will not influence his selections next season. With Steven Fletcher set to leave, Jake could get an opportunity to show his capabilities in the Championship.

What are your views of your manager?
Simply put, the arrival of Stale Solbakken has made this the most exciting pre-season in recent memory. He is an unknown entity in English football and despite his impressive record with FCK; this is the biggest gamble in Wolves history.

We needed a fresh start after a disastrous 2011-12 campaign, and the board have made a very ambitious statement with the Norwegian’s appointment.

….and of your owner/board/Chairman?
Steve Morgan deserves a pat on the back for bankrolling our promotion push, and three subsequent seasons of Premier League football. However his decision to invest heavily in the stadium, but not in the team, has destroyed his popularity with a lot of Wolves fans.

I can play devil’s advocate with Steve Morgan; he is a businessman at the end of the day and is looking to futureproof his investment. On the other side of the coin, this investment will also have an impact on the long-term sustainability of the club. By expanding the stadium it increases potential profitability, upgrading our facilities can lead to us attracting and developing better players.

Relegation has cost the club, and Steve Morgan, millions in revenue. I am sure he has realised the mistake he made, and will be better prepared if we are able to secure promotion.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
Promotion would be nice. I think we have a squad full of very good Championship players, that weren’t quite good enough for the top flight. A new man in charge with a fresh ethos might provide the inspiration needed to revitalise the squad after relegation.

However, they could potentially need a transitional year to get used to such radical changes. So it could go one of two ways; it’ll either be a brilliant success or we won’t be in the running at all.

One of my friends (Aston Villa fan) has been particularly vocal about the prospect of us going down again, pointing at Leeds and Leicester, I will go on record and say this will definitely not happen. We have no debt, a competent team and players capable of providing moments of magic – whatever trouble we find ourselves in, we will be able to get out of it.

Who will be your big rivals in this division?
Crikey, where do I start? There are some huge clubs in this division, and pretty much every team is capable of beating each other.

First fixture – Leeds United away – Neil Warnock sides are always a force in this division. Cardiff have made good signings and with further investment on the way, they could be in the running. You can never rule out Blackpool under Ian Holloway, Leicester City will be looking to erase last season’s disappointment, plus there’s our relegation companions Bolton and Blackburn to look out for.

A couple of surprise packages could be Sheffield Wedneday – Dave Jones is a very good Championship manager, and Lee Clark’s Birmingham City – who, like Wolves, have several experienced Championship warriors in their side.

What are your views on ex-Robin Terry Connor, who had a very tough baptism of football management last spring?
Terry Connor will never be blamed for Wolves’ relegation, but he should never have been given the job. Lovely man, but way out of his depth.

And finally, do you have any specific favourite memory of playing against Bristol City?
I have two, Saturday 7th November 1998 and Saturday 27th September 2008.

The 1998 game happened to be Colin Lee’s first as Wolves manager, and unfortunately that was about as good as it got for Colin! Wolves won 6-1 at Ashton Gate, with David Connolly notching four goals. Even more impressive is that they were Connolly’s first goals in a Wolves shirt; after he was unable to hit the barn door in his first 3 months at the club!

(ER: There was another notable incident during half time of this match – the infamous Wolf vs 3 Little Pigs fight as linked via YouTube above!)

The more recent fixture was a 2-0 Wolves win at Molineux. It was a good game of passing football, but the substitution of a Michael McIndoe was the most memorable moment. During the previous summer, McIndoe had quit Wolves for Bristol City and upon exit declared that he was signing for a better club. The Scot missed sitter during the game, prompting Gary Johnson to take him off – a fairly silly decision. McIndoe looked utterly humiliated during his walk off the pitch, as he was deafened with jeers and chants of “this club’s too big for you” by the home support. I have never seen like it.

Many thanks again to Graham for his answers – don’t forget to follow him here if you want a good chat about football!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Welcome to the Championship (5/6): Huddersfield Town

The penultimate post in this series of six presents the Yorkshire side who won promotion via the play offs, one year on from disappointment at the same stage.

Find other posts in the series here:

Welcome to the Championship (1/6): Blackburn Rovers

Welcome to the Championship (2/6): Sheffield Wednesday

Welcome to the Championship (3/6): Charlton Athletic

Welcome to the Championship (4/6): Bolton Wanderers

About……Huddersfield Town

Nickname: ‘The Terriers’               Manager: Simon Grayson

Play at: Galpharm Stadium, 207 miles from Ashton Gate

Capacity: 24,500;  Last Season Avg Attendance: 14,146

Interesting Facts:  Huddersfield were the best club around in the 1920’s, becoming the first club to win the league title in three successive seasons in the 1920’s in a run of positions that went 3 – 1 – 1 – 1 – 2 – 2  >>> They won the FA Cup in 1922, reaching the final on three other occasions inside ten years >>> Jordan Rhodes netted 40 goals last season yet only 12 were single strikes. His haul included a 5 away at Wycombe, all 4 at Sheffield Wednesday and three other hat-tricks.  He scored 26 goals away from home – City as a team scored just 18…

Notable match vs City: City 6 Huddersfield 1 (Bob Taylor hat-trick) April 1989

2012-13 Fixtures: 3rd Nov (A), 27th April (H) (Last home game of the season)

Many thanks to Charlie for answering my questions – after a long time fighting to gain promotion, and spending a fair amount of money by League One standards in doing so, the Terriers are finally back in the Championship and, unsurprisingly, looking forward to it!  If they can hang onto him, they also boast one of the most lethal strikers of recent memory in Jordan Rhodes, as well as ex-City favourite Jamie ‘Boom-Boom’ McCombe

How are you feeling about playing in the Championship, a few weeks following your promotion?Absolutely over the moon. It has been an eleven-year absence and with every passing year it was becoming tougher to get excited about another League One campaign.

What does your club bring to a tight, competitive and entertaining division?
An ambitious club, with a very nice stadium and a solid fan-base. We have waited a long time to get back in the Championship and we are certainly going to attempt to make the best of it. It also looks from the players we are being linked with that we aren’t intending to be fighting relegation.  I don’t think we’ll be a pushover and there won’t be many sets of fans who will be happier to be in the league.

What style of football/formation do you play?
Simon Grayson made us solid in order to get us over the line, but with many departing players and a number of anticipated arrivals, it might be a little too early to say. I suspect we’ll be a pragmatic side but with a touch of flair from the wide-men. 

Who are the star players we should all look out for?
Obviously Jordan Rhodes hit the headlines last season with a huge number of goals, but if he leaves we do still have a few players to keep an eye on.

Jack Hunt is an attacking right back with electric pace and a real attacking instinct. Attacking midfielder Kallum Higginbotham arrived from Falkirk in January, and after a loan spell at Barnsley, returned and became a potential game changer with a willingness to be on the ball and the ability to beat a man.  

So, just how good is Jordan Rhodes?
He’s a great player and has scored consistently during his time at the club.  He works hard and is a lethal finisher. You might not see him for 89 minutes, but if presented with a chance he’ll almost always take it.

And is there an up-and-coming future star in your midst?
Murray Wallace was bought from Falkirk by Lee Clark and loaned back to them. However he arrives with a very strong reputation as a ball playing centre back with an excellent reading of the game. Hopefully he’ll be able to establish himself as a first team regular.

What are your views of your manager?
I like him a lot more after he gained promotion, but I did have my doubts. He is a quiet man, with a relaxed approach, but 3 promotions from league one speaks volumes. He also established both Leeds and Blackpool in the Championship so hopefully that’s a good sign.

….and of your Chairman, Dean Hoyle?
Our Chairman is the reason we gained promotion as he put a lot of his own money into the club to restore us to the Championship. He’s a forward thinking chairman, a lifelong fan of the club and has restored a lot of faith in a club that has had its fair share of questionable owners. You’ll struggle to find a Huddersfield fan with a bad word to say about him.

You hit the headlines last winter by sacking Lee Clark despite a remarkably long unbeaten run. In retrospect, it looks a solid decision as the ultimate aim has been achieved, but was it not a strange choice at the time?
It was stranger to the outside world, than it was to fans of the club. As much as Lee Clark was positive for Huddersfield Town, he’d become cautious in the extreme. He seemed happy to settle for a draw and this is ultimately what cost him his job. It was a strange decision, but one that was ultimately justified.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
It depends on who we bring in.  As of yet we’ve brought in Sean Scannell from Crystal Palace (ER: and fullback Paul Dixon from Dundee United, a player previously linked with City) and if we add more players of that quality then I’d expect us to compete and finish around mid-table. I don’t think for one second we’ll do a Norwich or a Southampton but I don’t think we’ll be overawed and we might surprise a few people.

Who will be your big rivals in this division?
Obviously Leeds, although they obviously don’t consider us a rival. We are more of an inconvenience to them whilst they worry about Manchester United, who in turn couldn’t care less about them!

And finally, do you have any specific favourite memory of playing against Bristol City?
I always remember considering you rivals when Peter Jackson was our manager as you were one of the leagues big players. We beat you one-nil in an early season encounter, when Brian Tinnion was your boss. You’d just signed Marcus Stewart (I believe) and looked like you’d walk the league, and when we beat you I honestly thought it might be our season.

Many thanks again to Charlie for these answers, you can follow him on Twitter here:

Monday, 2 July 2012

Welcome to the Championship (4/6): Bolton Wanderers

The fourth in the Exiled Robin’s series of six posts introducing you to the Championship’s newest members focuses on perhaps the most surprising addition.  Bolton were an established Premier League club and in Owen Coyle had snared one of the brightest young managers in the game, yet found the going last season just too tough.


Find other posts in the series here:

Welcome to the Championship (1/6): Blackburn Rovers

Welcome to the Championship (2/6): Sheffield Wednesday

Welcome to the Championship (3/6): Charlton Athletic


About……Bolton Wanderers
Nickname: ‘The Trotters’ Manager: Owen Coyle
Play at: The Reebok Stadium, 188 miles from Ashton Gate
Capacity: 28,101; Last Season Avg Attendance: 23,669
Interesting Facts:  Bolton have spent more years in the top division (71) than any other side without winning the title >>> Two of the most famous FA Cup finals of all time featured Bolton, the 1923 ‘White Horse’ final – the first at Wembley, and in 1953 they lost 4-3 to a Sir Stanley Matthews inspired Blackpool >>> In 1958 Bolton were also the Cup final opposition for Manchester United in the weeks following the Munich Air disaster – their last major trophy

Notable match vs City: City 3 Bolton 0, Freight Rover Trophy Final, Wembley, 1986
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHEw2aL3TuQ (must watch for City fans!)
2012-13 Fixtures: 20th Oct (A), 13th Apr (H)
Many thanks to big Trotters fan Matilda Hankinson, co-editor of the comprehensive Wanderers website, the Lion of Vienna Suite, for this insight into one of the big clubs of this year’s Championship.  Bolton had spent 11 years in the top flight prior to May’s relegation and will undoubtedly be looking to bounce straight back up.

How are you feeling about playing in the Championship, a few weeks following your relegation?
I am slowly coming to terms with it. Even before relegation was a certainty, I wrote this article on why relegation could actually help the club. In short, the club has been floundering on and off since the departure of Big Sam. Relegation gives Coyle the chance to clear the slate and build the team back up in a sustainable way. A successful, productive season in the Championship is far preferable to another relegation battle in the Premiership to me.
What does your club bring to a tight, competitive and entertaining division?
Bolton will certainly be going through a major transition period this season, which will mean lots of experimenting with new players and old players in new combinations. If Owen Coyle takes this opportunity like I think he will, the club will be trying out lots of new things to figure out the best way to go forward in the future. I can't guarantee it will always be pretty, but it should be exciting.
What style of football/formation do you play?
As I've said, I'm not positive exactly what Bolton will be playing, and hopefully it won't be exactly the same week in and week out. Last season Coyle tended to switch back and forth between 4-4-2 and 4-5-1, generally being more successful with the latter. Stuart Holden should be back this season, and if he manages to stay fit for more than half a season, that should put a huge emphasis on passing through the midfield again.
Who are the star players we should all look out for?
While I hope that Coyle will be making quite a few additions to the squad before the season starts, in the current batch, Martin Petrov is undoubtedly the most talented player. The left winger is no spring chicken at age 33, and has been criticised for being 'lazy' and failing to get back to help defend, but when he has a good game, the Bulgarian is unstoppable. He plays with a certain grace that is very appealing, and his crosses are works of art.
And is there an up-and-coming future star in your midst?
We've got a few up and comers that I have high hopes for. Stu Holden isn't a new name, and given the fact that he'll be 27 when the season starts, he's not a youngster, but given that his career has been plagued by a series of very serious injuries, he's still building up his reputation. After missing effectively all of last season, he'll be rearing to go this season. If you managed to watch Holden at all in the 2010-11 season, you'll already know why we can't wait to have him back. He can control the flow of the game, his distribution is superb, not to mention the fact he scores a goal or two himself. Adam Bogdan is the other one to watch, the young Hungarian managed to displace living legend Jussi Jaaskelainen last season, which should tell you all you need to know. I think we could have another incredible keeper on our hands, and I'm excited to see what he can do now that the starting spot is undeniably his.
What are your views of your manager?
Owen Coyle earned himself a lot of criticism this season, for very obvious reasons given that the club was relegated. He's extremely charismatic, and when he gets it right, his football is quite fun to watch, but the problem is that he appears to have no Plan B for when he doesn't get it right. Tactically speaking he can be quite inept, and I think this is an area where his relative youth hurts him. I still think he could make a good manager, but he needs to seriously work on his tactical approach, and improve his backroom staff.
….and of your owner/board/Chairman?
Overall I'm a big fan of the way the club has been run in the past few seasons. There's been quite a few fan incentive deals, including free travel to some away games, many giveaways over social networking sites, and a very good direct debit scheme for season tickets. The club is in quite a bit of debt, but it is basically all owed to the owner, Eddie Davies, instead of a bank which puts the club in a better position. The wage bill is certainly too high, but that could probably be said of most clubs. Phil Gartside, the chairman, picked up a lot of criticism for not sacking Gary Megson sooner, but since then has come good in my eyes.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
I hope to see a lot of change, and most importantly a coherent vision of where the club is going from Owen Coyle and the club in general. The goal should be to get back to the Premiership within the next few seasons, and it's important that this season takes a big step in that direction.
Who will be your big rivals in this division?
Lancashire is a football rich county, so there are always plenty of local rivals to contend with. The fiercest will probably be Burnley. There's been a rivalry between the clubs for a long time, and I think they still haven't quite forgiven us for poaching Coyle from them.
And finally, do you have any specific favourite memory of playing against Bristol City?
Unfortunately, I can't say I do! I'm a relatively young football fan, only becoming seriously interested after the Euro 2004, and the two clubs haven't been in the same division since then.
(ER: I’ve added my favourite at the top, my, and City’s first ever visit to Wembley in 1986)

Many thanks again to Matilda for these answers, you can follow her website – the Lion of Vienna Suite – on Twitter here.

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