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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.

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