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

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Sam Baldock: A Hammers' view

Tuesday night wasn't your typical Ashton Gate night.  Opening the home campaign on a Tuesday night seemed strange enough, and that perhaps provided part of the reason for a relatively disappointing crowd of a little over 12,000.

For those that were there however, the night is one they'll never forget.  It began with rumours buzzing around that another new player - to add to that of Steven Davies the previous day - was about to sign.  When Derek McInnes failed to present himself to the press pre-match and local journalists began tweeting about 'something going on', the rumour mill really picked up pace.

Who had been seen around the ground? Who was that sitting in the Director's box?  Perhaps it was even a double signing, with both Sam Baldock and DJ Campbell reportedly interesting our young Scottish manager.  It soon became clear that whoever it was, there was an on-pitch half-time presentation planned to announce the new signing.

The major risk to all of this of course, was that it would cause a distraction to on-field activities.  There was to be no such worry.  Bizarrely, and remarkably un-City-like, the Robins started the game like Usain Bolt coming out of the blocks in London a few short weeks ago.  Two early goals and chances galore, with the front four of Woolford, Stead, Taylor and Adomah playing out of their skin, slicing and dicing the Palace backline seemingly at will.

And then an official club text, around 25 minutes in, that Sam Baldock had signed.  The game went on in fantastic style, City eventually wrapping up a 4-1 win against a side who have become rivals ove the past few seasons, but much of the talk during and after was of this new, young, exciting signing.

Tom Victor is a qualified journalist, a West Ham fan, and the editor of the quite fine general football website Pele Confidential and can be followed on Twitter here.  I'm immensely grateful to Tom for providing this profile of City's newest signing.

"When Sam Baldock arrived at Upton Park there was an unfortunate sense of apathy over which he had little control.

His move from MK Dons last August came just two days before Scott Parker’s omission from the squad to play Nottingham Forest signalled his imminent departure to Tottenham, and those fans not merely unmoved by the new arrival saw the juxtaposition of the signing of a League 1 striker, and the exit of the club’s captain in all but name, as the moment that relegation from the Premier League truly began to sink in.

When West Ham plied their trade in the Premier League, Baldock’s name was one which barely registered, save for the knowledge that he had scored freely in the lower reaches of the league and was being looked at by those at Championship level.

However soon after his arrival it became evident that the then-22-year-old’s instincts had every chance of bringing him success at a higher level than that to which he was accustomed.

The 3-2 win against Leicester and the 4-0 triumph over Blackpool stood out, with Baldock finding the net twice in each and proving near-impossible to play against, but a spell on the sidelines with injury going into the new year was among a combination of factors which saw his opportunities limited thereafter.

Aside from the injuries and lack of goalscoring form, the signings of Nicky Maynard and Ricardo Vaz Tê - coupled with Sam Allardyce’s increased preference for 4-5-1 - suggested Baldock’s time in East London was limited.

Seemingly regarded as too lightweight to lead the line alone, and two direct and attack-minded to fill the wide roles occupied on occasion by Vaz Tê and Maynard (either side of Carlton Cole), Baldock was limited to substitute appearances, coming off the bench more often than he started over the course of the season.

Still, even then - as the brief cameo against Crystal Palace in February illustrated - he never stopped working on his fitness and hunger to succeed.

Bristol City fans might have dreamed of a return for Maynard - still the club’s top scorer in 2011-12 despite his January departure - but his former team-mate ought to have a similar impact if given the chance.

Four goals in the shop-window of pre-season killed any doubts some might have had about match-sharpness, and a proper run of games in a traditional front two ought to be all Baldock needs to reach 15 goals or more."

Baldock's signing caps a tremendous recruitment drive on the part of the manager McInnes, who surely now has finalised his attacking options.  Pace has been missing from the forward line since the previously-mentioned Maynard departed acrimoniously, but in Baldock, McInnes appears to have signed that player who can stretch defences and take advantage of tired and the slower legs. 

Last season's Playerof the Year Jon Stead will be batting hard to stay a part of the plans, whilst youngster Ryan Taylor proved he remains at the forefront of McInnes' mind despite the new additions.  Brett Pitman looks the most at risk, a goal poacher whose workrate is oft-questioned, looks the least natural fit into McInnes' way of going about things.

With Steve Davies and now Baldock in the mix, City can either attack sides physically, with pace or with skill, and that will make them dangerous opposition for anyone, something that was certainly not the case last time out.

A commanding centre-half is still required, and then the dreaming can truly start, but whatever goes on behind them, the forward line City now possess would be the envy of many other sides in the Championship's 24.

Steven Davies: A Rams' point of view

The signing of Steven Davies seems an awful long time ago already.  Tuesday night's excitement - a win, four goals and another new signing - makes it seem like a distant memory but Davies' signing was, is, exciting and ambitious in equal measure.

Coming off the back of a narrow and mildly encouraging defeat at one of the favourites for promotion, Nottingham Forest, many fans were discussing the need for some extra potency up front and, lo and behold, we finally land one of our main summer targets.

I'm delighted that Ollie Wright of The Derby County Blog, who penned this piece for The Exiled Robin back in November upon the signing of another Stephen, Pearson, from Pride Park, has returned to these pages to offer a view on City's (penultimate) latest signing.

"If the fact that Nigel Clough had been publicly challenging Steve Davies to step up and become a 20-goal striker this season is anything to go by, it's fair to say that the striker's decision to turn down a contract extension in favour of a summer transfer was something of a surprise to the club.

Clough and his staff clearly thought that, having stood by Davies despite his terrible injury record and given him a platform to finally prove himself in the Championship, they would finally be in a position to reap the benefits and tie down a striker with many strings to his bow - technique, passing, heading, shooting from range, free kicks, a great penalty-taker.  Granted, he lacks pace and isn't the most powerful striker in the division, but there is no reason why he can't become one of the best number nines at this level - fitness allowing.

Because Davies' career appearance record is so patchy that Bristol City shouldn't realistically bank on more than 30 appearances from him in a season.

The abilities are there for all to see.  But Davies never put it together for a whole season at Derby.  Ultimately, it could be that he is not quite durable enough to be a top player and with that in mind, it might not be such a bad thing that he has left Derby.  His goal return was better than one in three appearances last season, but it was only 12 goals from 21 starts and six sub appearances.

I'm sad to see Davies leave, but hopefully, he's making the right decision for his career and more importantly, I sincerely hope that we will be able to replace his goals straight away.  He is a genuine talent and I'll never forget the penalty he scored at the City Ground, when we beat Forest at a canter on a sunny day in February 2009 (as pictured in the banner of Derby County Blog).

A gifted player, Davies never became a real Derby hero and will go down in the history books as one who might have been.  Whether his career continues on a similar path, or Bristol City end up with a real player on their hands, remains to be seen.

2008/09 APPS 10 (13 as sub) GOALS 4
2009/10 APPS 10 (13) GOALS 2
2010/11 APPS 14 (7) GOALS 5
2011/12 APPS 21 (6) GOALS 12

TOTAL STARTS 55 (Sub appearances 39)

Many thanks once again to Ollie for his contribution, and it's another good detailed and balanced picture of an ex-Derby player.  Overall Davies' record at Derby seems strong and the main issue seems to be the regularity in which he can perform.  Injuries have plagued many a player before and a change of scene, of training session, of physio can sometimes work wonders.

He's not a target man who will hold the ball up and batter the defensive line, and he's not a nippy, pacy striker who is going to get in behind the back four, but he is a talented footballer who can create chances as well as score them and offers something no-one else in the current squad can.

If Davies can stay fit and develop alongside the experienced Jon Stead, who will undoubtedly bring him into play with relish, then City may just have signed one of the young gems of the Championship.

A plethora of strikers give cause for optimism

The latest guest post from Stu Radnedge reflects on an up-and-down week and the selection dilemma now facing manager Derek McInnes.
"After a week off from work, in order to move into my new house, I returned on Monday and received a lot of banter from my colleagues (Arsenal fans) who all knew I had attended the ill-fated cup-match.

They asked what I thought and I said, obviously the result wasn’t what anyone wanted but when Elliott scored about five minutes from time – the blood coursing through my veins said “we’re going to win this”.
After lots of laughter, they commended my spirit.
When I arrived Wednesday morning, after texting the two in question with a stupid amount of “We’re going up, we’re going up, we’re going – City’s going up” messages after the match concluded 4-1, they didn’t seem surprised. Especially when I explained it’s probably the highest position we’ve been in and the largest positive goal difference we’ve had in two years – maybe more…

The euphoria from the Bristol City fans on Twitter was something to read and treasure on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The sceptics had been silenced, albeit temporarily, and BS3 was bouncing. 
It’s great to see Woolford and the lads commended by so many fans. But can the momentum continue?  Momentum and spirit are two things, in my eyes, that can’t be bought.  There is no doubt signing Davies and Baldock definitely sends out the right message to those in the league that may have been writing off our chances this year.

My only fear is that with two new forwards, other players may not get a look in. Every action has a reaction. It’s what makes the world go round!
Does this mean we say goodbye to Taylor? Let’s hope not after last night’s performance. But what about Stead and Pitman? Stead will surely stay but Pitman could be shown the door… maybe?

Competition for places is healthy at any club, more specifically for our team as we have for a long time lacked depth in particular positions. So having a choice of five strikers can only be a good thing.
But how many signings are too many? Teams that buy 10 new players in a preseason seldom get off to a good start. We’ve had eight and we have to remember they need to bed-in and find their feet at the club before we start expecting the world.
Let’s just hope they all settle in, in time for the visit of Cardiff on Saturday."

Thanks to Stu for his latest post.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Bristol City Season Preview: Tom Langridge

As with all of the greatest shows, they finish on a high and leave you wanting more.  And just when you think it’s all over, there’s a short encore which wraps everything up nicely and leaves you with a smile of satisfaction as you exit, ready to face the dark night outside.
And so it is with pleasure I introduce Tom Langridge, a freelance sports journalist who is mad about Bristol City and looking to get into sports writing.  He has contributed this additional piece, focusing on the seemingly tough pre-season the players endured and then moving on to the hustle and bustle of the transfer window, to complete the picture on The Exiled Robin and setting things up nicely as you exit the site and begin thinking about heading up the M5, M42 and M1 for the start of the season.
Tom writes match reports on City for the comprehensive football site It’s Round and it’s White so check out his writing by followinghim on Twitter here:

Something that has been missing from a pre-season campaign at Ashton Gate for a number of years.
However Derek McInnes has rekindled the fans’ enjoyment of the ups and downs of the summer transfer window.  McInnes laid his cards out early on by stating he wanted one or two new faces before the squad returned in early July.
City have been slow out of the blocks under previous managers, leaving the fans feeling nervous that the season was approaching and players weren’t arriving.
But with McInnes, City showed their intentions early, signing veteran midfielder Jody Morris and exciting full back Greg Cunningham in the first week of the squad returning.
Just hearing the player’s interviews after they returned from their pre-season training camp in Marbella was enough to fill the fans with an eagerness for the season to start now.
Triple training sessions in the boiling heat, vigorous fitness training and many of the players coming back saying it was ‘one of the hardest pre-season tours of their career’.  McInnes had given them a true work out, and the signings brought in before the friendlies began only added to fans excitement.
Tom Heaton, a good solid goalkeeper who came through the Manchester United academy and saved Steven Gerrard’s penalty in Cardiff’s Carling Cup final penalty shootout defeat, whilst Paul Anderson provides more Championship experience as a winger who can play on wings as well as playing behind a lone striker.
City’s pre-season friendlies have provided the fans with plenty of encouragement that we could continue the run of form that saw us drag ourselves out of a relegation dog fight and finish with an eight game unbeaten run.
The only downside to the summer will be the club’s failure to find a pacey striker, despite McInnes’ best efforts.
With just Pitman and Stead fit for the opener versus Nottingham Forest, McInnes will have to decide whether to try and push for one more signing or to go with just one upfront at the City Ground.
Either way, I’m sure the Scot, along with every City fan, hopes that the players are confident following their pre-season results and get off to a good start in McInnes’ first full season at Ashton Gate."
Thanks again to Tom for his contribution.
And that really is that. COYR

Bristol City Season Preview: Will Jones

The final season preview comes from a writer I've much-admired since I saw a series of well-written, well-thought out and ever-so-slightly quirky posts on his own website last year. Since then we've collaborated (albeit over a long period of time which meant a slightly flaky end product) on a review of how City play the so-called beautiful game in an early incarnation of The 72 Football's Tactics Bible.

Thus I'm delighted to abe able to introduce Will Jones to the pages of The Exiled Robin - if you don't enjoy this then I'll eat my hat!

"There’s a phrase you hear around the pubs and bars of BS3 most Saturday evenings, spreading across the city as the night draws on, uttered in homes at 5pm as the scores come in, and at workplaces the following Monday as bragging rights are conceded for a week.  It’s viral.  The more it’s said the more it spreads.  You’ve probably used it yourself, maybe often.  You’ll certainly have heard it.

“Typical City”.

It accompanies every late goal conceded, every shoot-yourself-in-the-foot red card, every opposition breakaway, after ten minutes of concerted pressure, that leads to a defeat.  Every three-point performance with a single-point return.  Every time we score with 5% of our shots on target and they score with 100% of theirs.

There’s irritation in the phrase, and frustration, but there’s resignation too.  Maybe even a touch of long-suffering amusement, as though the club were a cross-eyed and deeply stupid old terrier who walks into walls and gets chased by ducks.  It’s a sense befitting fans of a club who’ve spent most of their existence bouncing aimlessly around the middle of the football league.  When we get promoted, we do it in second place; when we get relegated, we do it dead last.

We’re all used to this, and we get briefly wound-up but mainly we get exasperated.  We can’t be cross long. We’ll still be back.  16,000 turned up to watch Birmingham beat us easily last season, eight days after Peterborough had done exactly the same.  We weren’t expecting anything different.  How could we have been?

But not that long ago we got something different.  We got our second-place promotion, and that felt good enough, but then we got something else.  We got a team to care about.  A team that won, didn’t win emphatically but won again, and again, and again.  That didn’t lose at home as an article of faith.  That was limited (of course it was; it was still City) but got the maximum possible return out of its inaugural Championship campaign, and knocked on the door of the top flight.

You know the rest of the story.  Bad signings, bad decisions and bad tempers.  Slowly slipping down the league table, season after season, like thick gravy sliding down a wall.  The only question being whether it congeals before it reaches the bottom.  The last few seasons have been our apotheosis; essence of City.

And I think a lot of us have been hoping that we might get something different this season.  A bit more fun, maybe.  Some younger players pushing some of the older, over-established ones out.  After all the changes of manager that did nothing but increase our losses, we’d finally snagged a good young boss with a bit of vision about him.  That was exciting and we had every right to expect a different, less typical, City.

We still do, of course.  But that’s why starting the season by going out of the League Cup at home to lower-league opposition was potentially so damaging.  Because that is, unequivocally, typical City.  It’s the fifth season in a row it’s happened.  Third in a row that it’s happened in round one.  Our cup record in recent years is shocking – five wins in our last twenty-two games, three in sixteen since promotion (all against lower-league opposition in the first round of the league cup, and since 2009 we’ve failed even to do that).  We haven’t won a knockout tie since August 11 that year.  We haven’t beaten Championship-level or higher opposition since January 16 2007, when we knocked Coventry out of the FA Cup.  We ourselves were a League One outfit at that stage.  We haven’t won an FA Cup tie since we got promoted.

Derek’s first League Cup game would have been a good opportunity to show that things were changing, but it went as badly as his first FA Cup game earlier in the year.  It feels like a chance missed.  I think that’s why it’s dispirited fans more than such a result normally might.  We’re all concerned now that we’ll lost 3-0 in our first league fixture for a third year running, giving us two portents that nothing whatsoever has changed.

That might happen; I hope it doesn’t, but it might.  But it doesn’t automatically follow that we’ll suffer  the same football again.  I do think McInnes knows what he’s doing and I do think things won’t quite be the same.  I think it’ll be difficult.  I think there will  be bad days at the office, probably quite a few.  But I’ve already seen signs in our transfer dealings and the way we ended last season that things can be different.  Like most fans, I’m really hoping to be proved right.

Derek McInnes.  Over to you."

There, told you! so My hats are safe for now. 

You can follow Will on Twitter here: and don't forget to check out his simply superb website To the Left of Ross

That concludes this mini-series of previews - I hope you enjoyed them and agree the three writers are all welcome additions to the roster - I for one certainly hope they'll be back on these pages soon.

So now to Saturday.  Day one.
Let's all forget Tuesday night's cup exit, let's forget talk about stands being shut and membership schemes being closed, vouchers that aren't as expected and sponsor flags that have replaced fans flags. No-one's trying to do a bad job, no-one's attempting to sabotage our chances on the pitch, or the enjoyment of fans off the pitch. Everyone's trying to make a positive difference so let's stop in-fighting and arguing over every little thing and make this club one to proud of again, on and off the pitch.

Get behind the boys, sun, rain or snow; win lose or draw and you never know - we might just be alright.

Come on you Reds!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Bristol City Season Preview: Dan Waters

In the second of the season previews from guest writers, I'm delighted to introduce Dan Waters for his debut on The Exiled Robin.

Dan began following City in 1996 and I'll let him explain further:

"In my first game I watched Brian Tinnion smash a volley over Andy Marriott against Wrexham! 1996 was also the year that my parents moved me into the footballing wilderness of Dorset, and absence really does make the heart grow fonder!

I'm now 26, living in Surrey and still a proud East End season ticket holder. A cautious optimist when it comes to our great club!"

Season Preview:

It's the 16th August 2012. After a thoroughly decent pre-season, Bristol City have continued that time honoured tradition of being knocked out of the League Cup at the first hurdle; and by a team from the basement division.

At the time of writing August has yielded no new signings, to the frustration of fans and no doubt to the management team as well. However, we have trimmed the fat of the squad with players such as Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Jamie McAllister and David James leaving the club for the lower leagues. To replace those three with Paul Anderson, Greg Cunningham and Tom Heaton, for my money, represents some good business. They're younger, have talent and, in the case of Anderson and Cunningham at least, have resale value.

In midfield the jury is out on the signing of Jody Morris, but he was neat and tidy versus Bristol Rovers, and will provide experience in the centre of the park. Derek McInnes knows what he's getting with Morris, and he'll be keen to have a good crack at the Championship after his Scottish hiatus. Skuse and Elliott are both decent performers at Championship level, whilst both having their shortcomings. This season is an important one for both; Skuse to prove that he can offer something going forward, and Elliott to prove that he can distribute the ball!

Stephen Pearson is full of running, and could be a key performer if we can't get a creative midfielder in. Without his contribution last year, the league table may have a very different complexion. Also, a cursory look at the squad list on the official site will show you that Kalifa Cissé hasn't been removed, so maybe that deal isn't as dead as we've all assumed. That may be as pivotal as any signing we've made in the close season, especially considering some of his standout performances last season.

We've made no additions to our squad in the final third, but Aaron Holloway seems likely to come into contention over the course of the next ten months. I've personally not seen too much of Holloway, but McInnes clearly thinks a lot of his footballing ability, if not his attitude. Brett Pitman has scored goals for City, but question marks remain over his effort when the chips are down. Equally there are doubts as to whether Jon Stead, ever the team player, can score 20 goals per season.

Where we do look strong are the wings. Foster has had six months to bed down, and could establish a potent partnership with Adomah down the right. Paul Anderson, whilst a little injury prone, is quick and a livewire who no full-back would relish facing. Martyn Woolford had a decent pre-season, and wouldn't be the first player to win over the Ashton Gate crowd. In his case more than any other I think it's important to remember that you do not become a bad player overnight. His friendship with Jon Stead could be an important factor in an upturn in form, and I for one hope that it happens. Then we have Yannick Bolasie... He's young, raw and can create something out of nothing. I have my doubts that he can nail down a place in the starting eleven, but he's a great impact player to have.

Come the end of August, I would wager that the first eleven has a very different look to it. It's important to have a little faith, and patience(!) with the management team when it comes to signings. Mark Wilson looks like he'll be a great signing, and it's hard to imagine he'd have spent as much time in our first team in pre-season if something wasn't imminent. (ER - Wilson has signed tonight, on a five-month contract).

A centre-half would be a huge bonus, and a centre midfielder in the mould of Akos B... well, you know who, would be fantastic. In the striking department, someone with a little pace would be a welcome addition and of the names bandied about, Sam Baldock would probably be the most exciting, although that looks less likely by the day.

So where will City finish come the end of May? I don't think anybody can expect too much. The club have made much publicised cutbacks, and this has led to accusations of cutting the cloth too severly on the playing side. With the current playing squad, I think we'll survive. Just.

In 'Del and Doc' we have a genuinely promising management team and I really believe that they'll get us playing decent, well organised football. However, the side still looks a little light on creativity, with an over reliance on Albert Adomah, who is prone to a mid-season lull. At the back we're still crying out for a commanding centre-half to compliment Liam Fontaine, but those are at a premium at our level so it may be time for James Wilson to come of age if we are to stave off relegation. It will be a tough season, but I think we do have enough to see ourselves safe. I might just be a glutton for punishment, but I really enjoyed the excitement of having something to play for last season, and so hopefully this year will again be full of moments that make you proud to be a City fan.

Here's to a great season, and hopefully some more signings in the near future!

Many thanks to Dan for his contribution, you can follow him on Twitter here:

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Bristol City's cup underfloweth

In his first post of the season, Stu Radnedge returns to The Exiled Robin with a take on City's latest cup failure

"Always believe ­- two words that should resonate with the Ashton Gate faithful.
I’m sure we can all recall that match where we sunk in our red plastic or wooden seat in the BS3 side of Bristol thinking ‘it can’t get any worse than this’. I’m not even going to begin this, the first of my blog contributions to The Exiled Robin this season, by saying that was how I felt on Tuesday night when I witnessed one of those performances.
Put simply we didn’t look like we wanted it and the Gills, put simply again, did. Our visiting opposition did their travelling supporters proud. Credit where it is due, they took the game to us – in our back yard!
Now I am not a scaremonger, and am known to always back my team through thick and thin. But what is a concern is, when will we break that City tradition?
Not the goal scoring in the first round of the cup one, as big Marv corrected that by bagging the consolation goal last night (City had previously failed to get on the score sheet in three years of first round exits, so I was reliably informed on the night!). The tradition I am talking about is not being able to raise our game against the, dare I say it, teams we are expected to beat?
Take a look at last season. The double over Southampton, who won the league, is an achievement for any team. But we struggle against the teams who everyone expects us to turn over. Why is this?
Del has my upmost faith and I genuinely believe our exit from the cup is nothing to write home concerned about. But I was hoping that tradition of not being able to raise our game and meet expectation was something of a forgotten nightmare. I seem to recall watching us play an F.A Cup match on terrestrial TV when I was 15 (ahem, 12 years ago) which had gone to a 2nd or 3rd round replay.
I think we scraped through, but my point is you can only compete against the team opposite you. And teams in leagues lower than us will be raising their game when they play us.
Reading Del’s comment in the programme (about understanding the importance of a cup-run) made me hope that this first round exit tradition of the last few years, was about to be broken. But that was not to be.
Just like before, I’m not going to write this and pin-point players that played below par. That’s not going to help anyone. But there were players there that need to have a long hard think about what they want out of the season.
All I, and I imagine other fans, want is to have a team that is proud to pull on that shirt, walk out the tunnel, and perform for the club and the fans that adore this team and always believe.
On a positive note, hopefully Del has a clearer view of what the starting line-up should be on Saturday when the season kicks off properly.
Until then…"
Thanks to Stu for his latest post, many a sentiment I'm sure we all share.

Pre-season optimism at Ashton Gate?

They say good things come to those who wait. Let’s hope so!
I mockingly suggested on Twitter yesterday morning that City fans should enjoy the day, as it would be the only day in the calendar we would be in the League Cup (or ‘COC’ as they seem to have decided to rebrand it!).  I was mostly joking, I was mostly positive and felt, actually, this could be our year for a little run.  Sadly it was not to be.
But let’s not read too much into one match.  The real business starts on Saturday and although it may be a long season ahead, the signs from pre-season were largely encouraging.
I would have been the first to tell people not to read too much into those results for the past few years when they’ve been poor, so we must take them with a pinch of salt, but what particularly encouraged me on the face of the results was that we were scoring goals and seemingly playing a more attacking style of football.  After the relative drudge through the past two seasons, this seems a refreshing new outlook.
Being unable to make it myself for any of the pre-season games (shocking I know but work, family and the Olympics put paid to that), I was grateful when Joe Folker (@Folks23) offered to write up his view of events as he saw them, with a particular focus on the new signings who many of us might not yet have seen.

Firstly, the highly satisfying and convincing victory over ‘that lot’ from South Gloucestershire.
Playing a 4-4-2 formation from the start, Joe’s first observation was that the squad looked fitter than in previous seasons, with “Pearson and Skuse particularly so in midfield, constantly running”.
There were also positive words for the wide men, including the oft-criticised Martyn Woolford
“Woolford, who is surely long overdue a good season seemed a reliable outlet, and linked up well with Jon Stead.  Yannick Bolasie was a bright spark, although with no real end product on this occasion, unlike seemingly on the Scotland tour.”
Of the new signings, Joe had this view:
“Heaton had very little to do, aside from one dodgy kick!  Everything else he had to do, he did well.  Horrendous orange kit though!  Mark Wilson at right back look assured, calm, good on the ball. Had one very good flurry forward and produced a good cross.  Defensively we weren’t really tested, although Greg Cunningham seemed solid enough.
In midfield, Jody Morris had a 20 minute cameo which included one delightful pass with the outside of his foot, but will be overshadowed by a monster tackle on one of the Gas players – he will add steel to us!  Anderson look bright, bubbly and quick – I’m excited by him.”

Whilst the performance and result against a league two side could be quickly discarded when looking for pointers, surely a game against a vibrant Southampton, looking to make an instant impact in the Premier League, would be a better marker?  Although they were remarkably defeated twice last season by unusually good performances, this would be a further test against a side at the level we aspire to be at.
“We started with a 4-5-1 formation, later changing to more of a 4-4-1-1 and the first 20 minutes saw us under immense pressure, getting little of the ball.  After the change in shape, we then became more of a threat.  Stead took his goal well, and Albert Adomah was first class throughout the game”
“But the biggest plus for me was the way Jody Morris – already written off by some – controlled the game and dictated play. He was very good on the ball, and I can’t recall him giving it away.  Again the fitness was clear to see, and we were playing at a relatively high tempo with some great forward runs from Foster, utilising his pace down the right.  Stead seemed isolated at times until Adomah was pushed up more alongside him.
Nyatanga’s disturbution is still a worry, and caused us trouble at times but overall there seemed to be much more of an idea of what we were actually trying to achieve as opposed to other seasons when we seem to have had no clear direction. “
Of the new signings, Morris has already been praised and Joe sees “a calming influence who is always available for the ball, and doesn’t often lose it.”
The others impressed Joe again too.
“This was more of a test for Cunningham, but he was fantastic up against the pacy Jason Puncheon, looks assured on the ball, and is certainly a welcome addition.  Mark Wilson had a 30-minute appearance and looked solid.  Very much a no frills right back who clearly has the ability to perform consistently at this level.  As for Anderson, again everything he did looked to be bright, bubbly and sharp!”

The final preparation game saw City head to the south coast to face league one side Bournemouth, although perhaps not a first-choice side.
“Bournemouth probably edged the early exchanges, with one great save required from Heaton, and another shot that cannoned off the bar. Kilkenny and Elliott were the midfield two in a 4-4-2 formation, and it was great to see Marv back- although he clearly wasn’t 100%. Sadly, Kilkenny was no different to last year, lots of pointing and moaning, no sign of a tackle, header, and incisive pass. The one great away performance against Millwall has not been repeated.
The second half was much better, with Bolasie and Adomah running them ragged, Yannick in particular showing great strength playing almost up front with Pitman.  Two goals in five minutes killed the game, and after wasting a chance in the first half, Pitman converted a great cross from Bolasie, before Adomah rounded the keeper for a second.”
Of the new signings, Joe felt Mark Wilson again looked assured and good on the ball, and perhaps critically “better than we have” whilst Cunningham again impressed.
“Heaton made one great save, but again had little else to do, other than barking out orders at his defence.  He looks very comfortable on the ball, meaning he is always an option and his kicking was very good.”
Joe also added some notes on the youngsters who performed, explaining “Joe Lennox looked very capable at left back, and especially good going forward.  Amandi-Holloway was off the pace, and Bobby Reid looked a touch lightweight.  Joe Edwards seemed composed in a central midfield role.  James Wilson also looked very good and maybe if paired with Fontaine, he can stem the flow of goals against!”

Joe summed up his views after these three performances.
“Overall we look fitter, sharper and seem to have better pattern to our play. We seem to have some real good pace outlets in Bolasie, Adomah and Anderson, whilst Woolford looks to be growing in confidence.  As much as in recent seasons we have endured a awful pre-season, and been told “results don’t matter”, that should also be remembered even when results are good.  It’s obviously better to be winning games and scoring goals, but Southampton were are only real threat in pre-season.

I’m hopeful of a solid season, with hopefully a positive goal difference and a top 12 finish.”
Thanks again to Joe for this review, let's hope we start the (real) season with a bang at Forest on Saturday and can replicate some of these good performances.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bristol City Season Preview: Mark Fry

A few weeks ago I invited members of the #bristolcitytwitterfamily to send me a season preview if they fancied writing for The Exiled Robin this season.  Work and family commitments mean I’m unable to write as often as I’d like, so I thought a freshen up with some additional contributors would at least maintain interest and hopefully prove variety is the spice of life!
First up is Mark Fry, who is 28 and originally from Bath and I’ll let him take up the story from here:
“I first started following City scores when I moved to Gibraltar in 1991 as my Dad has been crazy about them since the 60s. My first game was City 3 Swindon 1 in 1997 and I fell in love. I currently reside in Glasgow and try to get to 10-15 City games a season depending on funds. Outside of football I enjoy heavy metal, cycling, snowboarding and golf. I also have what I believe are the biggest Bristol City tattoos and flags.
The 18th of August.
It's the one date in the football league calendar where there really is no form book. You will always be able to look at a team on paper and give an opinion, but until the 11 men wearing your team's colours step out onto that 8,414 square yards of turf to do battle for the badge, there is always going to be a large element of conjecture.
I must admit to feeling quite optimistic about the forthcoming campaign. Not the giddy hype that surrounded the ill-fated appointment of Steve Coppell; the unfettered expectation that followed the 2007 playoff final defeat or the slight dread and apprehension that seemed to hang over Ashton Gate like a Thunderstorm waiting to break last season. Just an excitement that Derek McInnes is starting to build a squad that looks like it could compete in a division that has in recent times become somewhat of a free-for-all.
The Championship itself is still in rude health, and if anything growing stronger with every passing year. Still the 4th best attended division in Europe and with a plethora of large and famous old clubs, there is no doubt that the "anyone can beat anyone" ethos will continue to prevail. The additions of clubs such as Charlton, Blackburn, Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton only serves to add to the confusion over who the three teams to claim the priceless promotion spots will be. The Premier League this is not.  Eight more league games a season, added to the additional cup rounds and opposition that are fighting tooth and nail for every point makes the Championship far more of a strength based, war of attrition than anything and overall quality of squad as well as good football and a hefty slice are required in order to do well as we're all very acutely aware.
So how are Bristol City shaping up? Unlike in previous seasons, it has given me great pleasure to see a manager weed out the dead wood. The squad at Ashton Gate has been far too large, for far too long, and it was refreshing to see McInnes thin it out. Some of the additions have raised eyebrows and some have come completely out of the blue but the proof of the pudding will be to see if the manager can get them to play as a team. City's best season in the Championship to date came when they played as a tight unit that defended strongly - and at times desperately - and caught teams on the counter. It was a season of 1-0 victories and certainly won't be remembered for exciting football. It was however, barring the fall at the last hurdle, a success. My earlier memories of Bristol City were of sitting in the Atyeo watching Scott Murray bombing down the right and Mickey Bell on the left, of strikers like Thorpe, Torpey and Akinbiyi providing the targets, the roar of Ashton Gate as City would pile into teams with 10 minutes to go... Football is a different game now. Unless you can afford to put together a team with the likes of Vaz Te, Nicky Maynard and Kevin Nolan, you are not going to be challenging for a top six place unless you can create a team strong at the back who convert a high percentage of their chances.
To the squad and firstly the Goalkeepers.  I personally had great respect for David James. He came to the club as a bit of an enigma, with a reputation as a great shot stopper but one who had probably committed more than his fair share of gaffes. I thought he had a largely excellent couple of seasons for us but that his greatest legacy was bringing Dean Gerken out of his shell. Gerken looked rather unsteady when he first joined but his performances at the end of last season when we needed him most were outstanding. I hope he goes from strength to strength this year. The main question will be over his understudy. (ER – Tom Heaton signed after this was written).
In terms of defence I think we are heading in the right direction.  Greg Cunningham and Richard Foster as wing-backs look exciting, though I do feel we could do with another central defender. Louis Carey whilst still a fantastic organiser and tackler is coming to the end of his career and I think Liam Fontaine still looks a bit wet behind the ears and lost when the experience of Louis is missing.
The midfield as always at City is the most frustrating part. We have had several very good players at the club in recent years who have, for whatever reason, failed to reach their potential. The overall factor linking them all is the inability to play a final ball into the box. I am hoping that Paul Anderson and Jody Morris will provide the creativity that has been so lacking in the midfield since the days of Scott Murray and Tommy Docherty.
Akos Buzsaky rumours are still floating around the Internet as well and I personally believe he would be an excellent addition to the squad if we could lure him to the West Country. As for the incumbent squad members, Albert Adomah especially has a make or break year on his hand. He is clearly an extremely talented player but unless he learns to use the ball better after beating his man then his future may not be as bright as many predict.
I will admit to being a bit pessimistic on the striker front at City. Our lack of creativity in the midfield in recent years has seen many good centre forwards arrive at the club and fail due to a lack of service. Maynard was perfect for us in this sense because he could create something from nothing. Jon Stead is a typical City striker, a fan favourite because he works his socks off - I hope he has another good season. Brett Pitman is frustrating because at a club with a more creative midfield he would be a 20 goal a season player. His laziness and attitude in this side does not bode well for him. Ryan Taylor could be an exciting prospect if McInnes fails to land someone with more experience.  We can only hope he steps up the plate.
Despite the sober tone of parts of this blog, I am very excited for the coming season. Living in Glasgow, the Scottish pre-season tour brought a very welcome return to see my team in several grounds I used to frequent before I could afford to travel to see my beloved City. The addition of more Northern games such as Bolton, Blackburn and Huddersfield will mean additional cider-fuelled train journeys to lose my voice singing and shouting for the team I love.
The 18th of August is the day and I for one, cannot wait.
I'll update you from the road. Look out for my flag, Cider Army Glasgow Division
Many thanks to Mark, who you can follow on Twitter here:

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