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Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Inside Line: Gillingham (31/08/13)

So, here we are again!  Just 24 days after City went to the Priestfield Stadium and won their first cup game in five years to set up this week's fantastic victory over Crystal Palace, we return for a league encounter with both sides wallowing in the bottom six on two points after a pair of draws and a matching pair of defeats.  

Last time out James, the fan we spoke to, was still full of beans on the back of a title-winning promotion, but the Gills, like City, remain winless in the league this season, so are things looking  considerably bleaker? 

To keep the thoughts fresh, this time around I spoke to Luke Cawdell, Sports Journalist for Kent Online, and asked his views on the Gills difficult start.

Luke, I guess you’re all hoping for a better result than earlier in the month, what did you think of the cup match and each team’s performance?
The cup match was typical of most of the games we’ve seen Gillingham take part in so far. City were far superior on the ball and dominated possession, with the Gills sitting back and playing with a more direct approach, relying on their power and that did still create some chances for the Gills. I thought City looked decent going forward, with Thomas and Baldock looking likely to cause a lot of teams problems this year.

Do you think Martin Allen will change approach bearing in mind the recent defeat, or stick to his guns and hope it goes better this time?
The last time the sides met Martin Allen made five changes to his starting XI, giving some young players such as Callum Davies, Antonio German and Bradley Dack a start. They are by no means regular starters, so it certainly wasn’t Gillingham’s strongest team. 

He is definitely going to pick his full-strength XI this week. Changing style will only come about with a change of personnel but he has been limited with what he can do in the transfer market due to lack of funds. He is hoping to have made an addition by the weekend.

After coming up as Champions all seemed well with the Gillingham world, but a difficult start – following a poor pre-season – must have the natives feeling a tad worried?
It doesn’t take a lot to make a football fan complain! There will obviously be people looking at the results and hitting the panic button but I don’t think it is realistic to think Gillingham can repeat their feat of last season. In the last two games, however, against Brentford and Swindon we have seen a far improved Gillingham. They really bullied Swindon last weekend, created plenty of chances and were unlucky to have twice gone behind. A draw was the least they deserved. A big loss to Wolves has shown what can happen if the team don’t turn up.

I notice that last season more than a third of your games finished 0-0 or 1-0 and goals seem particularly hard to come by for you again this time around?
The manager has invested in his forward line this year, with Cody McDonald, Adebayo Akinfenwa and Antonio German all arriving permanently in the summer. The defence was already sorted. Last season’s success was built from the back. They would defend, defend and defend some more, nick a goal, and then sit back and wait for full-time. They were a really tough team to break down and Martin Allen, along with assistant John Schofield, really got them organised at the back. It was refreshing to see, as in previous seasons they were conceding for fun. This season they are finding out that defending for long periods against better strikers is a different story.

Martin Allen was naturally lauded for last season’s achievements – are there any signs of discontent brewing yet or does he maintain the benefit of any doubt?
Martin Allen’s approach to everything around the club has been refreshingly different and I think his no-nonsense style and honesty has been a hit with the fans. He may have the Mad Dog nickname, but he has come to Gillingham with a calmer mentality than with previous clubs more level-headed.

Over the summer fans have been watching training from the sidelines and he regularly picks up supporters from street corners to give them a lift on the team bus. He knows how important the fans are and I think they appreciate being valued. That said, previous manager Andy Hessenthaler was voted the club’s biggest legend not long back and when things went wrong, even he couldn’t avoid their derision. Most fans will appreciate League 1 is tough.

So have the season’s aims been realigned, or has consolidation/survival always been the name of the game?
Every season the chairman’s mission is promotion, even if it’s unrealistic. You can’t knock his ambition but I think even he, deep down, will have known a second promotion was a tough ask. I think most people will be happy as long as the club aren’t in another relegation scrap. They have been yo-yoing between the two divisions for several years now and they need to establish themselves back at League 1 level, before considering Championship football. 

There is certainly a massive step up in class from League 2. The Gills are coming up against players signed for millions, rather than peanuts. If the Gills compete and finish mid table, that will be a great job done, particularly with the small squad they have.

Who do you think will be a key player for you in this match?
One player who has impressed this season so far is Charlie Lee, despite being on the transfer list. He was on the verge of joining Southend in the summer but the move fell through. Chairman Paul Scally has already said he is one of the top earners, and I think that’s the motive for selling him more than anything. We haven’t really seen the best of Lee at Gills, but he spoke to me this week and said it was the best start he had made to a season with the club and he is feeling good. He makes things happen from midfield, with energy and vision. On his day a great player who has previously been promoted from League 1 with Peterborough. That said, Martin Allen will probably make changes, surprise us all, and drop him!

And finally, can I have a score prediction for the match?
The Gills will need to be 100% on it and if they are, a 2-1 win is theirs.

The Exiled Robin

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Monday, 26 August 2013

The Inside Line: Crystal Palace (27/08/13)

As hard to believe as it may have been that we were even a part of it, when the draw was made for the second round of the Capital One Cup I think it’s safe to say that many fans were underwhelmed  when Crystal Palace were drawn out of the bowl (there wasn't a hat) to come to Ashton Gate.

On reflection, had we been offered a Premier League side at home prior to the televised draw, I’m sure everyone would have taken it.  As it was, it just all felt a bit “samey”, after all we had played Palace a number of times in the past five years, and in some significant games.

However, they are a Premier League side and if nothing else, the return of Keith Millen and Yannick Bolaise, not to mention panto villain Ian Holloway as manager will ensure an atmosphere of some description, albeit amongst what I expect to be a fairly small crowd.  City may not have made the second round for half a decade, but have had a highish-profile start to the season with home games against Bradford and Wolves and a cup tie eight days later which has caught the imagination a little more, probably to the detriment of attendance at this match with many I’m sure choosing the Bristol derby over this match up.

But what we won’t get for beating Rovers is a tie against Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal and one has to wonder, with Premier League survival surely top of Holloway’s objectives, whether this is this an outstanding chance to reach the third round?

Matt Woosnam – online editor of the popular Palace fanzine Five Year Plan http://www.fiveyearplanfanzine.co.uk was kind enough to spare some time over his Bank Holiday weekend to answer my questions.  There are some good links to look through here if you're feeling nostalgic too...

You can follow Matt and the team on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/FYPFanzine

It’s safe to safe that a bit of a rivalry has developed between our two clubs over the last few years, with the play off matches, followed by the goal that never was from Freddie Sears leading to “cheat” accusations from Neil Warnock & Simon Jordan.  What are your main memories of the matches in the last five years?
They’re very painful memories! Palace haven’t enjoyed much success down in the West Country over the last few years, or indeed at Selhurst Park over Bristol City. Starting back in 2008, the play-off semi final matches were set up to be crackers, and they were, but sadly you were the ones to go home happy. A last minute stunner at Selhurst (from David Noble) and a missed penalty at Ashton Gate were sickening, whilst the Freddie Sears ghost goal a year later simply added further frustration at playing you. 

Personally, last season’s drubbing was the most difficult to take. It was the first time I had been to Ashton Gate, and everything that could have gone wrong that day, did go wrong. The football was dire from Palace, and we were rooted to the bottom of the table following the defeat. To rub salt into the wounds, you introduced Sam Baldock as a new signing at half time, a player linked with Palace who most fans were desperate to sign. 

All in all, it’s been a rather horrendous experience for me with matches between the two teams over the last five years. Hopefully that will change on Tuesday night!

...and now you’ve gone and inflamed that even further by appointing Ian Holloway as your manager! How much of last season’s promotion was down to the squad Dougie Freedman put together, and how important was Ollie’s arrival to get you over the line?
Ask some Palace fans and they will tell you that Freedman was going to take us up automatically, ask others and they will say the wheels were going to come off sooner or later and Ollie was a tactical genius. There is no doubt that Dougie built a great squad, with a superb team spirit, but Ollie’s tactical nous in the play-offs was crucial to Palace gaining promotion. Whether we would have been promoted under Freedman is simply conjecture, but he certainly deserves credit for the squad he put together, with some shrewd signings such as midfield stalwart Mile Jedinak and right-back Joel Ward. All in all, Ollie finished off what Freedman started, and it was the final standings which mattered, Palace gained promotion.

Was the promotion a surprise to you, as it was to many others?
To an extent. I never expected promotion at the start of the season. I was hoping for a mid-table finish and possibly flirting with the play-offs but actually getting promotion was a ludicrous concept. When Freedman left it was gut-wrenching and it felt like the best chance we had in years of being promoted had gone up in a puff of smoke. The day that I really believed promotion was on the cards was at Peterborough when we came back from a goal down to win 2-1 with two late goals, having dominated the match, to go top of the league. After Christmas, with us doing so well in the league it began to feel like a promotion chase was truly on. A run of six or so games without a victory under Ian Holloway made me cast doubts and after the goalless draw with arch rivals Brighton in the play-off semi final first leg, you would have been hard pressed to find a Palace fan expecting promotion. After the victory at the AMEX I just thought that it would be typical of Palace to lose in the final, but luckily we managed a victory and promotion was sealed.

You’ve produced a number of top-class players over the years, and, without wanting to dwell on him, just how good is Wilf Zaha, now of Manchester United?
Wilf has moved on to pastures new and good luck to him, but he’s not a Palace player anymore, so I won’t say too much about him. However, he is a superb player. His ability to take players on is up there with the best in the Premier League right now, his raw skill is sublime but it is the more subtle parts of the game which he needs to work on. Crossing, passing and decision making are areas he falls down slightly in, but the entertainment from watching a player like him was worth the admission fee alone last season. In short; he’s got the potential to light up the Premier League in the next few years.

Tuesday also could see the return to Ashton Gate of Yannick Bolaise, who left a sour taste when moving on with his brother slating Bristol and our fans via Twitter. Yannick seemed to have an electric start to his Palace career, leading to his PFA Team of the Year nomination, but has perhaps been out of favour now for a while, especially now you’ve signed Jason Puncheon on a season-long loan?
I don’t think Palace fans could believe their luck when Bolasie put in some superb performances on the wing. £250k? A bargain. However, there were some down sides to his game, his shooting leaves plenty to be desired, and he was out of form for periods last season. The style of play that Holloway likes does not suit Yannick as he is an out and out winger who doesn’t suit the inside forward role and of course with Puncheon signing there is more competition on the wing this season. It’s hard to see Bolasie having a starring role this year, but he deserves his chance in the Premier League. Bristol City fans will have to save their ire for Ian Holloway as Bolasie is injured and won’t be included in the Palace squad.

Zaha won't be at Ashton Gate on Tuesday, nor will Yannick Bolasie, 
but the little guy in the middle will be. Can't think of his name...

Your headline signing so far this summer has been Marouane Chamakh and you also spent a fairly astonishing amount of money on Dwight Gayle. What are your early impressions of them and will Glenn Murray find it hard to get back in the side when he regains fitness?
Firstly just on the fee we spent on Gayle, I don’t think Crystal Palace Football Club is in a position to, or would choose to spend £8.5m up front on a player, but the reported fee of £4m up front potentially rising to £6m is more likely to be accurate. Regardless of the fee, I expect the same from every player, a burning desire to win and 100% effort. Gayle has had a difficult start to his Palace career, looking very isolated in what was essentially a central midfield position against Tottenham, with some wasteful passing and an inability to impact upon the match. However, in the second half he made an excellent run and shot a fierce effort on his weaker left foot from the edge of the box which narrowly passed over the bar. Against Stoke he allowed the ball to drift across his body before unleashing a volley with superb technique, but it lacked accuracy and sailed wide. These two moments stand out and show that he clearly has the potential, but he’s still a little bit raw. I like him, and so does Ian Holloway so we should see the best of him soon provided he is played in his best position.

Chamakh signed on a free transfer, but one must imagine his wage is a fair whack. Against Tottenham he came on as part of a triple substitution and immediately made a difference, bringing Gayle into play more and holding the ball up well. Indeed, he showed a willingness to take a player on, but his passing left a little to be desired. Against Stoke he scored a good goal, but his defending, or lack of, caused us to concede. When he is match fit I think he will be a very good signing for Palace. 

A 30 goal a season striker shouldn’t find it hard to make his way back into the team when he regains fitness (which won’t be for a long time yet!) Nevertheless, Glenn Murray may have to fight hard for his place, depending on how Ian Holloway chooses to set up his team.

With avoiding relegation your undoubted number one target, have there been any hints as to the strength of your likely team?
Palace boss Ian Holloway has told the press that he sees the match as a hindrance and wants to use it to work on signing new players, but he has also mentioned that there will be changes to the side. Expect Elliot Grandin, Florian Marange and Neil Alexander all to feature, with a few other changes elsewhere too.

And bearing possible selection in mind, who should we be looking out for, perhaps a player looking to make a name for themselves?
Given that Jonny Williams has not yet started a match, this would be the perfect match to play him for the full 90 minutes and let him show what he can do. If he plays then you can expect something akin to an out of control, remote control car, as someone put it on a Palace forum! Jonny runs around a lot, has quick feet, good close control and a good footballing brain. Otherwise, one to look out for would be Jose Campana who also needs match fitness. Another central midfielder, snapped up from Sevilla for just £1.75m he is the best passer of the ball at the club by a country mile.

And finally, can I get a score prediction from you please?
As I mentioned, Palace have an abysmal record at Ashton Gate, but this time things are different. There’s two divisions between the clubs, and Palace have strengthened since the last meeting. I expect it will be a tight match but I fancy Palace to win this one, so 2-0 to Palace. 

My thanks to Matt again, and if you needed any further evidence of the widening gap between the Premier League and the rest, it's the fact that Palace might play a £1.75m signing to give him match fitness - this was a side we took apart at Ashton Gate a little over a year ago and this little snippet gives some insight as to what's happened since.  Matt's clearly confident, but I've just got a feeling we can sneak this one, on our own patch.  

Then we can start dreaming of seeing a David Moyes return to BS3...


The Exiled Robin

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Inside Line: MK Dons (substituted) 24/08/2013

This new series on The Exiled Robin threatened to come a cropper in its early days with a fixture against Franchise FC, as I wasn't prepared to seek an opinion on a club created in such a fashion. 

Not that I doubt that those supporters who follow them do so in the same irrational and desperate manner we all do with our clubs, but the way they came about, with the corresponding direct negative impact on another community-based club, manes they are - ironically enough - disenfranchised from the football community as a whole. 

Anyway, as a result I decided to instead focus on their predecessors, a club reborn and one that has found it's way back into the football league for a second time.

Chris Lines, (NOT the ex-Gas player, as far as I know!) writes his own blog and occasionally offers his view for the fabulous Two Unfortunates, as well as spending his weekends following the fortunes of AFC Wimbledon. You can follow Chris on Twitter @NarrowtheAngle:

How is the spirit at the club and the optimism for this season, bearing in mind last season's oh-so-near miss of relegation back to the Conference? 
I think it's fair to say, after breathing a huge sigh of relief on the final day last season when we stayed up, there is a collective resolve to have a really ordinary, safe, boring, midtable season this year. Four points from our first two games meant morale was refreshingly high. But an abysmal performance at Exeter at the weekend has plunged us into a certain amount of uncertainty again. Our nerves can't take another relegation battle. We hope for better performances in the next few weeks or fingernails will be rapidly disappearing once more. On paper, our squad looks like a midtable squad. Let's hope they play like one too.

Neal Ardley – one of the last Crazy Gang members – is your gaffer. Is that an important, perhaps necessary, link with the history of the original club, or maybe a deadweight story that could do with being set aside?
Generally I'm not one for sentimentality when it comes to key staff members at the club (though I might make an exception for Chris Perry one day). But make no mistake, Wimbledon were definitely going down last season before Ardley and his assistant Neil Cox came in. That the club survived is squarely down to them and their astute signings. So I'm happy with Ardley – but his connections with the old Wimbledon FC are a nice bonus but nothing more. That said, there was something quite pleasing about Dave Bassett sitting in on the interview panel when the club sought a new manager last year. We felt the club would make a solid appointment with him giving candidates a proper grilling at interview.

Some may not know the story behind Glenn Mulcaire...are you able to summarise briefly for the readers please?
Your readers will doubtless know Mulcaire as the phone-hacking private investigator in the News Of The World scandal. But, curiously, he was also an early AFC Wimbledon player and scored our first ever goal. If you haven't seen it, it was an absolute rocket and well worth a look on YouTube. I suppose the club are quite embarrassed that he was ever anything to do with us now, but it's a good bit of trivia.
Low crowds were synonymous with Wimbledon FC and whilst your 3,000 average is good at League Two level, will this apparent ceiling always be an issue for you as you try to progress up the leagues?
Ahem, 4,000 average I think you'll find... but yes, we are under no illusions about the size of our club. But I do think that, with the club potentially back in a new stadium in their home borough of Merton (possibly even spitting distance from the old Plough Lane) by the next decade, we would draw bigger crowds than the old Wimbledon FC did at Plough Lane. Southwest London is a fairly affluent place, but not everyone wants to pay the prices they charge to watch Chelsea. There's a good catchment area and we will attract new fans if we keep progressing. I think Wimbledon can be a club of comparable size to Brentford if they were in a new stadium and playing in a higher league than League Two. Anything beyond that is probably too ambitious for a fan-owned club. Portsmouth are perhaps an exception as their supporter base is so large. If it happens that Wimbledon reach giddier heights, great, but we shouldn't be pinning our hopes on it.

Last season saw an immensely notable cup draw with yourselves drawing MK Dons at their stadium in the F.A. Cup Second Round and being edged out by a late winning goal. If possible, can you explain what that meant to fans of AFC Wimbledon?
It meant different things to different people. The sense I got from fans, message boards, social media, etc was that about 60% of fans just wanted to get the game over with and would rather not acknowledge the existence of the franchise in Milton Keynes, while around 40% were desperate to get one over on a club they see as an enemy. I can sympathise with both viewpoints, but I generally side with the school of thought that they should just be completely ignored. Not hated, just left to their own devices. I applaud your website's stance in that respect. If the football world just ignores them and refuses to deal with them, then eventually they'll get their comeuppance.

Ultimately, what is the end objective for fans of AFC Wimbledon for your own club, and for MK Dons (if anything)?
All we want is a league club that is enjoyable to support and which never becomes the plaything of a rich businessman who could jeopardise the club's future. Success is nice, but having a team to support at all must always be the most important thing. It's as simple as that. For the next few seasons we'll be content to simply retain our league status. Anything on top of that would be an unexpected surprise given the club's meagre budget (one of the smallest in League Two).

I don't know what the objective is for MK Dons, I don't really pay attention. The sad thing is that they apparently have staff doing great work in the local community. Imagine how proud the locals would be of their club if they'd earned their league place. The relocation of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes coincided with the demise of a local non-league club, Milton Keynes City FC. If MK chairman Pete Winkelman had spent the money on them that he's spent on MK Dons to date, they would almost certainly have made it into the league by now. And with a community of supporters with a young average age getting behind a local club that had battled up the divisions, what a fairytale story they could have written. You wonder if Winkelman ever regrets not going down that route. You'd certainly be interviewing an MK fan this week, rather than me, if he had.

Do you keep an eye out for their results in the way we might for Bristol Rovers results?
No. I couldn't begin to tell you how they've started this season. A long-range screamer from Jason Banton (he's a very good player) caught my eye on The Football League Show at the weekend, but I don't recall who they were playing or what the score was. I'd struggle to name a player on their books aside from Banton. Is Luke Chadwick still there?

And finally, even though our teams are yet to face each other, you do know Rovers fairly well. What do you think of their chances this season (careful now...)?
When I saw them against us on the opening day of 2011/12 season, I thought they'd go up automatically. The likes of Zebroski and McGleish were sublime that day, and Carayol caused problems when he came on as sub. I was a little surprised it didn't work out under Paul Buckle. They were unrecognisable from the season before when they came to Kingsmeadow last year. Eaves played quite well and scored, but nobody else stood out. They just look flat and lacking a bit of technique. But given they ultimately finished quite well last year I'd say they're an unpredictable side this season. I think Chesterfield and Fleetwood will be the top two, but Rovers could be anywhere from 3rd to about 15th. I suspect they'll just make the playoffs, but I don't know a great deal about a lot of their squad. I'm a fan of John-Joe O'Toole though. Used to rate him a couple of leagues higher – saw him boss Charlton at The Valley once – so he ought to be terrific at this level.

My thanks to Chris, and we wish him and AFC Wimbledon well whilst we hopefully defeat their nemesis in Buckinghamshire.

Thanks for reading - COYR!

The Exiled Robin

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Saturday, 17 August 2013

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE Interview with Sean O'Driscoll

When you're offered an online exclusive interview with Bristol City Manager Sean O'Driscoll, you don't turn it down!

Some of you may have read this in the latest edition of The Bountyhunter fanzine, which was on sale at the Bradford match, but as they don't have an online presence I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to publish it via this medium.  There's some typically fascinating responses from SOD in here, some you'll love, some you'll perhaps have alternative views on, but all equally measured and balanced, as ever.

There's also a question from Sean himself at the bottom, which he wants the fans to answer.  So please feel free to comment on the blog below and I'll collate all responses and get them back to the club - it's a good chance to tell the manager (and others) exactly what you'd like to be happening at your club.


"Last month we sent the club an e-mail, more in hope than expectation, asking whether Sean O’Driscoll would be willing to do a short Q&A for our next issue. Surely we thought, he’ll be too busy with important stuff – like trying to find some kit big enough for new signing JET – or probably just not interested. Wrong! No problem, they said! And in no time at all Sean’s reply had pinged into The Bountyhunter’s inbox. Our processes had achieved the desired outcome! Splendid. So here it is, with grateful thanks to Sean for finding the time to give us some open and insightful answers. Bostin!

10 Questions for...Sean O’Driscoll

The Bountyhunter: During the radio phone-in you did with Geoff Twentyman last season, you said emphatically that City will return to the Championship. Can you tell us why you are so confident about that?
Sean O’Driscoll: Because it’s a club that now wants to do things the right way, by putting solid foundations in place to support promotion to the Championship, the ability to sustain Championship football, and build from there. If you get any sort of stability in the approach on the playing side, coupled with a club that’s financially stable and has a firm but flexible infrastructure behind the scenes, you will be successful. This club has everything going for it but had lost its way through a culmination of many factors. 

What we cannot do is get hung up on the ‘when’ will we get promoted. Whatever happens, when promotion does finally come, the club has to go up in a stronger, more stable and sustainable position than it was relegated in. That may be this season, it may be next, it may be another three seasons, and you cannot start to get frustrated and lose faith in the long-term goal if it doesn’t happen straight away. 

Football being football, I could end up being one of the casualties of the transition process, as could some of the players, but if the fundamental principles that the club has decided it wants to govern itself by remain intact, I have absolutely no doubt at all this club will be back in the Championship in a much healthier, vibrant state.

2. Last season you said we were playing a position-based style rather than a possession-
based one. Was this expediency because you didn't have the right type of players available or because we were in a relegation battle?
When I used that expression I was trying to articulate what we were trying to do, how we were trying to make things as simple as possible for the players to find a way they could win football matches and instill some confidence back into them. Hopefully people understood that we couldn’t be expansive or take risks, and by no means was it a slight on the players that were here, but we had to give them something easy, quick and tangible they could buy into and believe in. They had to become a team greater than the sum of its parts. 

When we went on our run of good results that was testament to the boys trusting in what we were telling them and doing their jobs properly. The turning point of last season for me was losing Jon Stead. He was the focal point of this functional approach, and again this is absolutely no criticism of the boys that came in as they have their own strengths, but we couldn’t quite replicate the same resilience or find the right formula to win after his injury. 

Losing Jon Stead proved critical in City's failure to avoid relegation

We did look at the loan market but there was no one out there who met our criteria of being available, affordable and who wanted to come. Should we have broken the bank to get someone in? If you do that again, you are setting the precedent to keep doing it and for a club already carrying such huge losses you have to say ‘no more’ at some point. All you’re doing is putting a plaster on a broken arm.

3. We admired the passing football your Bournemouth and Doncaster teams played and hope for more of the same at City. Is the aim this season to play a more possession-based, fluid style of football?
The whole possession/passing thing is a bit of a misnomer. I’ve never coached passing; we aim to give players options on the ball, then coach decision-making. You can’t be predictable. 

Sometimes passing it out from the back might be the right thing to do but why would you persist with doing that if your centre-halves or sitting midfield player then kept getting caught in possession in dangerous areas? If players are comfortable in possession and don’t lose the ball, like Xavi and Busquets, it’s an easy option to give it to them. But sometimes your keeper or centre-half spotting a striker has peeled off his man into a dangerous position in the channel, and playing the ball up to him, is completely the right thing. If you keep getting joy that way and you play 15-20 ‘long’ balls into that space, does that make you a long ball team or an intelligent one? 

It sounds so simple but from the youngest ages players in this country have never been challenged to think and make decisions like that themselves, they’ve always waited for a coach to tell them what to do. What we try to say is ‘Here are your options, what do you think is the right thing to do and why?’ If they pick the right option and it doesn’t come off we will still applaud the decision making, but if they continually pick the wrong option then you’ve got a problem.

4. In interviews you’ve spoken about wanting "thinking" players and ones with the right "character". Could you expand a little on what you meant?
I’ve probably touched on this in the previous answer but I want to develop players and a team who understand what is being asked of them, and therefore can make their own decisions on the field of play; players who are prepared to take responsibility for the decisions they make. As I said before, we will never have a go at a player for trying something and it not coming off if it was the right thing to do at that time. If it was stupid, irresponsible and careless they won’t be afforded the same grace! 

The more times you can create environments in training where people can take responsibility, the better the team will be. People who get that concept fly very quickly, and although they may not always be the most talented boy, they are your glue, the unsung heroes in a team. 

In any walk of life you want characters around you that you can trust, even down to the most basic things like punctuality. Why should footballers be any different? It’s just basic professionalism.

5. City are a big club in Division 3 terms, there to be shot at by the smaller ones. Whereas in the Championship, we’re a small fish in a bigger pond. So will the players need a different mind-set compared to last season? Do you work on the psychological side of the game with players?
What defines a big club? Selling 8,000 season tickets off the back of relegation suggests the club has the fan-base to sustainably support a higher level of football. There’s no doubt the club has potential but the hardest thing is unlocking potential as everyone has an opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do.

I personally don’t think Bristol City were a small fish in a big pond in the Championship. We had a wage bill that said we should have been mid-table. What we didn’t have was anything underpinning that, which is why we find ourselves where we are now with the club having made very brave, bold statements about the direction it now wants to go in. 

How do we deal with being a big club in League One? There are plenty of clubs considered bigger than us who are either in the division next year or have been in recent seasons. Every single thing we do on the training pitch reflects what happens in a game on Saturday so I’d say all my coaching reflects the psychological side of the game. You have to play the situation not the occasion, which is why everything I’ve always done with players focuses on getting them to think and make decisions for themselves, not wait for someone to tell them what to do. That’s not about being a big club or small club, that’s about simply understanding and the more you practice and recreate that on the training pitch the easier it becomes in a game.

6. Barcelona's Xavi was once quoted as saying "The result is an imposter." Do you agree? Is this a variation on your mantras "I don't look at the league table" and "focus on the process not the outcome"?
That is a fantastic quote and it is so right. My experience in 15 years playing was – win and all the things we did wrong didn’t matter, lose and all the things we did wrong were demonised. It wasn’t about how we’d played or what elements we could take from what we’d done well or poorly, and learn from them. 

Please, please can I one day play for Sean O'Driscoll? But don't bring that fella behind me

The process/outcome thing still gets misinterpreted by some people who think that, because you say you focus on the performance and not the result, you don’t care about the result or you’re not bothered about winning. Of course I’m bothered about winning! How can I not care about winning when I’m in a results-driven industry? But I have to understand the reasons behind every result. Then I can understand how we can improve and move things on, even in victory. 

I’ve said it so many times but if someone can show me a way to play poorly every week and win I’d take it. But no one ever has so that’s why I focus on trying to make sure we tick all the boxes that make a good performance for our team, whatever they may be. The more boxes you tick, the likelihood is you’ll win more matches than not. You can still take positives from a defeat too.

7. The terminology you use in a lot of your interviews, like “processes and outcomes”, sounds like it comes from sports psychology, much of which can be traced back to Buddhist philosophy. Are you a big reader of sports psychology, a Buddhist, or perhaps both?!
I’m a big believer in trying to understand why successful people are successful, whether that’s businesses, sports teams or people, schools, anything. I’ve read so many things and the one thing that everyone concentrates on is the processes. I’ve read it time and time again; if the processes are right then they get the outcomes. 

And I’ve experienced it with every club I’ve been at too. Surely it’s just common sense? Every successful business has concentrated on putting foundations in place first, but in football the minute you say those things so many people still roll their eyes and switch off; they just want to hear you’re going to win 6-0 and get promoted. It’s that favourite British football cliché “passion”; people who go on about processes and outcomes can’t be passionate right? But if you’re saying stuff with no substance to back it up what’s the point? You have to judge people by their behaviours and not what they say. 

I can communicate with fans in loads of ways but if what I’m saying isn’t backed up by what I’m doing it’s pointless. I might not always get something right but I’ll always be the first to put my hand up and say ‘I got this wrong but this is why I did it’. It’s up to someone whether they then accept that or not. 

We’re in an industry completely governed by results but because you know that, you might as well do what you think are the right things to do because you’re probably going to lose your job one day anyway. I believe the way this club is now heading is the right way. If I owned my own club this is the way I would take it. If that makes me an Irish-Black Country Buddhist then so be it!

8. "The most important thing in football is what a player is doing on a pitch when he's not in possession of the ball, not vice versa." So said Valeriy Lobanovskyi (former coach of Dynamo Kyev & the USSR). Do you agree?
The average Championship game is 94 minutes long and for 45 of those minutes the ball is out of play. One of the things we asked at Doncaster was ‘can we be the best team in the league for those 45 minutes?’ That has nothing to do with money, the size of the club or a player’s technical ability, simply whether they understood the value of switching on when the ball was not in play. For us it was an opportunity to win the ball back and we were very effective when we were in possession. 

It’s one of those Moneyball type things. One of my biggest bugbears for years has been the number of goals conceded from throws in the final third; more chances come from throws than corners and free kicks because they are seen as innocuous, players switch off and don’t think marking from throws is important. But just watch how many times it happens! 

One day one of the top coaches in the world will make this point and everyone will think it’s genius but we’ve been saying it for years. It’s such a simple thing to do – stay alert and concentrate on throws – it’s not difficult!

9. Historically City fans have enjoyed watching us play with a proper winger, even two at times, but your previous teams have not always included out-and-out wide men. Is this a personal preference or can we hope to see some skilful wing-play for the City this season?
Wade Elliott at Bournemouth and James Coppinger at Doncaster were probably the two most skilful wingers I’ve managed, but they had so much more to their game than simply hugging the touchline and waiting for the ball to come to them. They had the intelligence to switch sides in play without being told, come inside to find pockets of space, yet always had their basic winger instinct to beat a man to underpin all that too. They were wingers who understood what was needed in a fluid system. They weren’t one-trick ponies. The days of standing on the touchline have gone. 

Even Wilfred Zaha, probably the most high-profile ‘winger’ in the British game at the moment has added so much more to his game, which has made him the real asset he is now. He always had pace and could beat a man but now he can switch wings, drop into midfield, play upfront – he better understands his own game, when he needs to defend and how he can contribute to the team effort. 

You think traditional wingers and you picture immediately a 4-4-2 formation; we get so bogged down in formations in this country it’s untrue. What you want is flexibility and fluidity, intelligence and bravery. Get that in a wide man and you have got a good player.

10. Any memories of playing against City yourself, as a Bournemouth player in the 80s/90s? (Please don’t mention that 5-0 drubbing at Dean Court in 1985 when Colin Clarke scored a hat-trick in the first 10 minutes as we still have nightmares about that!)
I don’t have too many memories of playing against many clubs to be honest! I’ve just never been someone that reminisces about things; I’ve always been too worried about what’s around the corner that could bite you on the backside! 

I remember an interview with Arsene Wenger when he recalled walking around the pitch having just won the title and going through the season unbeaten, and all he was thinking was ‘how am I going to better this next year?’ – while he’s on the pitch! That’s what it’s like and the minute you start slapping yourself on the back is the minute things start to slip. 

As an opposition manager two of my best team performances have come at Ashton Gate with Bournemouth on a Tuesday night and the 5-2 win with Doncaster Rovers. But you enjoy those because of the performance and execution of gameplan. 

Sean O'Driscoll has masterminded some impressive victories against City in the past

One of my strongest memories of this club strangely was an FA Youth Cup game at Ashton Gate on a freezing Tuesday night when I was youth team manager at Bournemouth. We were down to ten men when James Hayter, who I later had in my Bournemouth first team and also took to Doncaster, scored the most magnificent Glenn Hoddle-esque chip from the edge of the 18-yard box to win the game. As for Colin Clarke, he was an excellent finisher, which taught me it doesn’t matter how good a team you are if you haven’t got a goalscorer you won’t be successful.

(11) (Sorry Sean, we can’t count!) What do you like doing to switch off from the day job?
I’ve discovered Thatcher’s Gold since I’ve been here - always believe in your soul!

To finish, Sean turned the tables and posed a question of his own to all City fans:
"What do you think are the things this club needs to do to be successful and how do we go about it?"

Remember, be sure to let him know what you think. As I said above, I’ll happily collate and send on to the club so please feel free to comment in the comments section below (or via Facebook/Forum comments section) to get your voice heard.

Aside from the Thatcher's Gold quote I love this one 
"I believe the way this club is now heading is the right way. If I owned my own club this is the way I would take it."
It demonstrates the total commitment behind what we're trying to achieve as a club - not all managers would be as bought into youth development and budget management as Sean is.  It's a ringing endorsement of the club's 'pillars' programme from a man who has been in the game a long time. That's good enough for me!

What this also re-emphasises - yet again - is that we currently have a team very much in development, as I indicate at the tail-end of my season preview from a couple of weeks ago (http://exiledrobin.blogspot.fr/2013/08/its-here-at-last-exiled-robins-bristol.html).  We've got a very young and somewhat inexperienced side, who are learning fast. They need time, Sean needs time, and we're the ones who can give them that. 

My thanks once again to the Bountyhunter fanzine for letting me reproduce this, and to Sean and the club for offering such an excellent insight into the mind of our head coach.

The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 16 August 2013

The Inside Line: Wolves (17/08/13)

It's another big occasion at Ashton Gate on Saturday as our high-profile introduction to League One continues with a home match against pre-season title favourites Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Stu Radnedge spoke to Wolves blogger Thomas Baugh who runs the popular 'Wolves Blog' at http://www.wolvesblog.com/ and ascertained his views on the current goings-on at the fallen Black County giants.

Wolves suffered the same fate as City last year, being relegated from the Championship. How tough has it been being a fan and witnessing back-to-back relegations?
Awful. What was evident in both seasons was the total lack of any sort of team ethic. They were just a collection of individual players sellotaped together and asked to make the best of it. Additionally, all the managers that came and went had radically different ideas about how the team should be playing, which meant by the end of last season we had this weird, broken down McCarthy/Solbakken/Saunders hybrid. It was excruciating to watch.

I can recall Solbakken’s departure led to Dean Saunders being employed in the role – who was very confident Wolves would survive. What happened last season at Molineux?
Solbakken had visions of total football but the board went ahead and sold the only players we had capable of implementing this sort of approach (Kightly, Jarvis, Fletcher, Guedioura, Milijas). When his foreign recruits got injured early in the season, the wheels fell off and he got the bullet. Saunders was supposedly brought in so the knuckleheads in our squad could relate to his more simplistic strategy. Suffice to say this didn't work out and his points/games ratio was even worse than his predecessor's.  

Can I ask your feelings of Wolves owner Steve Morgan? Was he partly to blame for the two failed appointments of last season?
Hard to say really. The blame for the string of bad decisions certainly lies somewhere between Morgan and chief executive Jez Moxey. I feel Steve Morgan has good intentions but is advised poorly. Moxey is a money man and prioritises balancing the books over balancing the squad. I do blame them both for where we now find ourselves, but there are small indications lessons have been learned. 

Kenny Jackett is now at the helm – how’s this going for the club?
Very well so far. He's a likeable character, makes the right noises and has the fans firmly onside. Tougher challenges lie ahead though. The ins and outs before the end of August will determine just how tough those challenges are.

"It's hard to think abut Bristol City v Wolves without thinking back to one infamous encounter..."

With a squad that, it could be argued, still has Premier League quality in it – who should City fans be fearful of?
If last weekend's demolition of Gillingham is anything to go by Leigh Griffiths is the one to watch. He's just so sharp and confident in front of goal, I'd back him to score every week. Doyle tends to enjoy playing at Ashton Gate and he was another who played very well last week, linking up the play and making clever runs. Sako is capable of pulling a rabbit out the hat and his unpredictability is often a potent weapon.

Can I have a prediction for the match?
Tough one this. I think our young team will be vulnerable away from Molineux. The midfield in particular is lightweight so there's a danger they'll get bullied. You also had a disappointing result last weekend and will be keen to bounce back. On the other hand, we normally do well against you lot. I'll sit on the fence and go for a 2-2.

Thanks to Thomas and Stu for this preview.  Whatever happens on Saturday it seems likely that Wolves will be one of the teams standing between us and a chance of promotion chance, so let's hope we can gain an early advantage and notch our first three points of the season.  A 1-0 winner in the 90th minute will do just nicely...

Anyone else want to make a score prediction?

The Exiled Robin

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