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Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Inside Line: Colchester United (28/09/2013)

Two away defeats may not feel like ideal preparation going into a “should-win” home game, but the encouragement players and fans alike could take from the spirit and the long spells of control and quality in the matches at Swindon and Southampton bodes well in terms of driving us towards that elusive first league win.

The possession and chances created at Southampton in particular should give everyone the confidence that we’ll soon be taking great strides up the table, but there remains a concern – one which I’m certain Sean O’Driscoll will bring up in his pre-match press conferences – that the pressure of performing in front of an expectant and increasingly (largely understandably) impatient home crowd will prove to be this young team’s undoing yet again.  It will only take a couple of misplaced passes, or a rush of blood to the head of a defender for anxiety to sweep around Ashton Gate in a manner that simply can’t have been replicated with a smaller, less dominant away following.

We’re used to this, of course.  This is the third year out of four that we’ve had to wait until two months into our season for a first win of any sort, and the other two years ended in (ultimately successful) relegation battles, hence the increased feeling of doom & gloom.  But we should equally remember that each of the two home matches that has broken that run previously has come about with the help of a large motivated support, treating the match almost as a ‘must-win’ cup-tie, such were their apparent importance.

There is a big danger we fall into the same trap as we did against Shrewsbury and talk about “only Colchester”, which leads to a certain apathy amongst fans, which translates onto the pitch and the vicious circle is ever more.  This was never the case in the Championship, but we need to remember we have no ‘right’ to win any game at any level, and we no doubt took advantage of many established Championship teams saying “it’s only Bristol City” in that eventful first season back in the second tier.

Time for the rallying call – let’s get right behind the team this Saturday, from the start and keep it going, whatever happens during the match.  We can help the players out of this, so why wouldn’t we at least try?  I’m convinced once we get one or two wins under our belt, this division and the future is our oyster so make some noise, keep encouraging and create that special cup-tie atmosphere – no-one will talk about this being “must-win”, but from a confidence, support and perception perspective, another home match without a maximum return could have longer-lasting damaging effects.

This feature is of course supposed to be about Saturday’s opponents, so I’ll move swiftly on to the questions posed by Stu Radnedge to Matt Hudson, who is Media Manager at Colchester United.

Two wins in two at the beginning of the season was a great way to kick off the 2013/14 campaign - can you enlighten us City fans as how it felt to win a league encounter this season? What was the atmosphere around the club like for the U's then, compared with now?
"I think from the early games in League One this season, it is a question of fine margins. A lot of teams will be very competitive in the division and it is a question of those moments within games and which side can take them on the day. The U’s have enjoyed a summer of positivity after beating the battle to stay up last season and it was important that we started on the front foot this year. The two wins have given us a good platform to work from and there’s plenty of promise ahead. Even though we await that third win, there has been plenty of encouragement in the performances – even in the defeat to Orient – to suggest the team will do well this year."

Since that win you’ve had six games - four draws and two losses including a draw on Saturday against Crawley? Was that result a bitter pill to swallow after going one up and getting pegged back?
"There were probably some mixed feelings amongst the fans not to have won the game. Having been in front, and having hit the crossbar moments before Crawley’s equaliser, some would have hoped to have seen out the game. The flip side is that the team has had issues with injuries in the past few weeks and Saturday’s game had three players making their home debuts from the start and a fourth making his first league appearance from the bench, so keeping the points tally ticking over whilst these players settle into the side is an important factor.

Those injuries have certainly played their part – we had a very young side out in the defeat to Coventry – but a top half position at this stage despite those injury problems is pleasing."

The gaffer (Joe Dunne) has been steering the ship for around a year now after making the step up from twice being caretaker to take control of the club last season, following John Ward’s sacking (whatever happened to him!). Has the transition been steady or is Colchester finishing 20th last season indicative of the task at hand in his first full season in charge?
"Joe has been there and done it with the club – from a player to youth team boss and eventually first team manager. His appointment was well received by the U’s supporters who appreciated his committed style as a player and his honesty as a manager. He is implementing a style of football that is pleasing on the eye and fans know that things are moving in the right direction under his tenure. He has largely reshaped the squad in his year in charge (the Sunday after the game at Ashton Gate will be his first anniversary) and there are strong hopes that this season will see the U’s well away from trouble and looking upwards rather than what’s below them in the table."

Only eight games in it's too early to make a call of how the season will end. But would you say these games have been on par or below expectation in terms of the performance of the team?
"It has been a solid start to the season – it took the U’s eight games to get their first win last season, so the start we have had this time around gives us a platform to build from. The team in some of the games has been a young one – the team that started v Bradford had seven players 22 or under – so it’s a side that will grow with the experience it gains this season. Twelfth is about right so far, but the team and manager will strive to go higher as the season takes shape."

What do you expect to have to do on Saturday when you visit Ashton Gate to give you the best chance of taking something from the game?
"As mentioned earlier, the difference between the top sides and those at the other end of the table comes down to the smallest of margins, so the first goal will be a key one. Away from home, quietening the home crowd is always one of the first challenges, so a good first twenty minutes will play its part."

Which player(s) should City fans be worried about?
"Much will depend on the injury situation, but of the players available for selection from the Crawley game, Freddie Sears returned from injury to score on and looks in good form. Craig Eastmond pulls the strings in midfield and is settling into life at Col U after his summer move."

And finally, can I get a score prediction please?
"If we can continue to build on the last couple of games, I’ll go for a narrow victory for the U’s."

Many thanks to Matt and Stu for their time and contribution.  

One day soon we’ll win a (league) game, I don’t know where, I don’t know when, but I know we’ll win a game…and very soon.  Apologies for the lapse into paraphrasing a famous victory song, but something’s got to get us that win, and I’m running out of other ideas! Remember, let's properly get behind the boys – COYR!

The Exiled Robin

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Monday, 23 September 2013

The Inside Line: Southampton (24/09/2013)

It’s not very often that Bristol City play a team that are placed higher in the league than Manchester United, or have just won at Liverpool, but that’s the fate to befall us on Tuesday when we travel to what has been a successful stomping ground for us in recent history.

There is little doubt the Saints have moved on somewhat since a Christmas-time backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win there in their promotion-winning season, but those recent good outcomes (City have won four consecutive matches against Southampton), along with the expectation that many of the starting XI who won at Anfield on Saturday will be rested for the cup-tie, has led to some raising of hopes ahead of the journey down to the south coast.

To put this in some perspective, Southampton rested nine players for the last round, and won 5-1 at Championship side Barnsley without the likes of Osvaldo, ex-Bristol Rovers and England striker Rickie Lambert and Wanyama, whilst City may also make some changes – O’Driscoll hinted at further use of the squad after Saturday’s defeat at Swindon Town, with Parish, Carey and Harewood all seeming likely to play a part, whilst the likes of Jordan Wynter & perhaps even Neil Kilkenny may offer options from the bench.

One more note to add, City haven’t reached the fourth round of this competition since the 1988-89 season, when we famously took then-giants Nottingham Forest to extra-time in a televised semi-final.  In that tournament, we beat Crystal Palace in the early rounds too…however, the last time we reached the third round?  2003-04. And we lost, 3-0. To Southampton.

To take a look at our Premier League opponents, Lewis Hancock spoke to two Saints stalwarts in Alistair Iveson and Chris Rann and sought their views.

Nigel Adkins departure from St Mary's was a shock one. In hindsight, was it the correct to decision to replace him with Mauricio Pochettino?
Ali Iveson: Yes- although that's not a slight on Adkins, who did a fantastic job. He was slightly naïve at the start of the season & results have improved since Pochettino took the reigns. He also seems to have given us a much clearer identity, & his trademark pressing means we now play every game on our own terms.

Chris Rann: Yes it was. We were pretty shocked to see Nigel go and he will always be a popular figure here but Pochettino is taking this team to another level. Defensively we look a world away from a year ago.

Saints have always been credited for having a high-profile academy set-up. Have you ever thought it could produce a player that would go onto be the world's most expensive player? Did you think Gareth Bale would succeed as much as he has?
AI: I didn't expect him to become the world's most expensive player; & neither did the old hierarchy when they sold our 20% sell-on clause & add-ons for £3M & Tommy Forecast! He was clearly a massive talent however, and while he didn't possess the physical attributes he does now, he was technically excellent.

CR: The potential was always there. We've brought through so many fantastic kids (and still are) that it was inevitable that sooner or later one would really turn the heads of the extended footballing world. Bale was quality from day one in a Saints shirt and it is pretty pleasing to see him in a Real Madrid shirt.

Another player Saints have transformed into international pedigree is Rickie Lambert. When signed from Bristol Rovers in 2009, could you ever see him scoring goals on the international stage?
AI:  I would be lying if I said that I believed Lambert was good enough for England in 2009, but every time he's gone up a level he's adapted well & shown he's good enough to go up a level again. Don't let his fairytale journey blur the fact that he is the most prolific English striker in the Premier League over the last two seasons- he's there on merit.

CR: Absolutely. When Lambert joined Saints he was an out of shape goal scorer, and to be honest I thought he would come in and do a job over a short period of time. He did the complete opposite though, got himself fit and showed us that he is actually a fantastic footballer. Hasn't looked out of place in the Premier League or in and England shirt and deserves every minute of success he has had. He is far more than the burly target man misinformed pundits think he is.

Pochettino made nine changes to the starting line up against Barnsley in the last round; is he likely to make a host of changes on Tuesday? 
AI: Yes. We've got a great crop of youngsters & Pochettino will be keen to give some of them a go, along with some fringe players. 

CR: I would have thought so. Pochettino wants to utilise the Academy and this represents the perfect opportunity. The youngsters tore Barnsley apart so there is no reason not to trust them again.

Who should City fans look out for on Tuesday? 
AI: Omar Rowe is a very exciting eighteen-year-old winger who has been banging in the goals for the U21s so far this season. Very quick, even quicker feet & he possesses a wicked cross & shot; he's one to look out for if he gets on.

CR: Take your pick, you are getting a first-hand look at the future of English football. Omar Rowe looks a talent.

In the last six matches we've played, Saints have only beaten City once, with City winning five. Will Saints err on the side of caution going into the fixture? 
AI: No, I don't think so. Our two clubs are in very different situations to when we last met.

CR:  I don't think so no. You certainly became a bogey side for us in the lower divisions but Saints as a club is slowly transforming and shaking off it's more unwanted traditions. I do think they will take it seriously though, with Saints looking for a way into Europe.

Is the Capital One Cup a competition Southampton should be looking to win? Or would fans prefer to concentrate on a solid league campaign? 
AI: I think we should be looking to win it- especially with European qualification a stated aim.

CR: As I said in the previous question the Chairman has European ambitions so why not? It is integral that we improved on last season’s league position but a cup run would be a nice bonus.

How does Pochettino set up his side to play? 
AI: To take the game to the opposition, both in terms of pressing & attacking. At home though this seems less effective, so a more attritional possession game is sometimes in order.

CR: He tends to stick to a 4-2-3-1 with the emphasis on high pressing, keeping the ball and defending from the front.

Finally, can I get a prediction for the match?
AI:  3-1 to Saints.

CR:  I think Saints will win 3-1.

My thanks to Lewis, Chris and Alistair for their time. 

It should be an interesting glimpse into a future model as for all Southampton’s big spending in the last 12 months (only Man City, Chelsea & Tottenham have spent more in English football), the future appears to be built on a successful and vibrant Academy system, producing long-term sustainability.  They’re a few years on from us and have significant pedigree with the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain already making a huge impact, and no doubt elements of their way of working has been reviewed by the City board and implemented into our plans.

The Saints fans are fully expectant of a home win, to be honest most City fans are probably thinking the same, but as Bradford proved last season, the cup can produce some moments of magic and be the sorts of games where reputations have foundations built, so let’s get behind the boys and produce an atmosphere to spur them on to a surprise victory.


The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Inside Line: Swindon Town (21/09/2013)

Aside from a postponed first round League Cup tie (which we lost, of course) two years ago, this weekend sees the return of a much-anticipated Westcountry derby after a six-and-a-half year absence.  Let's hope this long-awaited Derby return has a similar result to the last one, albeit without the pitch invasion this time around!

Very kindly, top Swindon blogger Ron Smith, of The Washbag has offered his thoughts to Stu Radnedge on the other 'Robins' ahead of Saturday's clash.

Saturday's match marks the battle of the Robins and the only 'local' derby City have to enjoy in this division. Do you perceive there to be a bitter feud between the teams or are we more like friendly foes?
"It's the only local derby we've got to enjoy in League One also. There is a rivalry, however it has fluctuated over the years and is somewhat a distraction from our true foes."
Seeing as we're nearing the end of September, how do you feel your start to the 2013/14 campaign has transpired?
"Very promising. We expected the worst but some of the quality of football has just been a joy to watch. Seriously City fans, come to the County Ground this Saturday and be entertained with some astonishingly creative possession with an attacking spark."
There's no way I can ask you a set of questions without mentioning your former, former, manager. What type of effect did Paulo Di Canio have on the club and, more importantly, is it still being felt?
"Swindon was Di Canio during the time of his reign. He brought great success and passion to the job, yet he never left any legacy. In truth Di Canio was never going to provide any building blocks for his successor as he always told his players that "they were nothing without him". His sheer disregard for the youth setup has set us back a year or two in player development, which is a priority for the club to put right."
Are there any fears that Saturday could see your players already starting to focus on the televised glamour Carling One Cup tie against Chelsea? 
"No. They are all playing for places against Chelsea so no professional would let down their guard for a crucial League game."
Swindon lost in the play-off semi-finals to Brentford last season, ending dreams of promotion.  Are you glad you didn't make it up another league or do you feel the team would have survived?
"I thought it would've been a step too far for promotion last season, however given how well the chairman & co. have transformed the club and secured quality players, actually...had we secured promotion we probably would've survived."

Following the departure mid-way through the summer of manager Kevin MacDonald, did you see the gaffer leaving as a major stumbling block? And how do you feel new man (and ex-Bristol City youth player) Mark Cooper is coping?
"Yes MacDonald's departure was a shock and could have set us back months, however Cooper's appointment was the sensible choice and he's certainly proving he deserves the two year contract he was awarded."
Who is the player most likely to cause City problems on Saturday?
"Fortunately for you Alex Pritchard is suspended, however there are plenty of others. Yaser Kasim will sit deep and dictate the tempo of the game. Ryan Mason will pop up in all sorts of attacking positions and isn't afraid to shoot. Nile Ranger is out to give Aden Flint a black eye..."
Can I have a score prediction please?
"Home win, of course. All my predictions start with a 2 and end with a 1"

Many thanks to both Ron and Stu for their contributions.  Let's hope the 2,500 strong travelling army enjoy their day out and City can finally, finally record that first league win - and perhaps even a clean sheet for good measure!


The Exiled Robin

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Monday, 16 September 2013

The Inside Line: Shrewsbury Town (17/09/2013)

The old adage that the best thing to do after falling off a bike is to get straight back on certainly feels like it rings true in BS3 this week as Sean O’Driscoll and his young side quickly return to perform in front of their own fans at Ashton Gate and look to right the wrongs of Saturday’s 3-0 humbling.

This Tuesday sees City's rearranged match against Shrewsbury Town, and following Saturday’s heavy home defeat, many are labelling this ‘must-win’ and, perhaps more worryingly, saying our tough start to the season (having faced promotion contenders Bradford, Wolves and Peterborough at home thus far) is now over with us facing a 'small club like Shrewsbury', suggesting a win should be mandatory.  Funnily enough football doesn’t always work out like that, but wouldn't it be nice if it did on Tuesday?!

It's the first match between the two sides for 15 years and the Salopians haven't won at Ashton Gate since 1961, their only ever victory in BS3 to date.  Lewis Hancock spoke to 19 year-old trainee teacher Jason Griffiths to evaluate our latest opponents.

David Moyes transferred from City to Shrewsbury in 1987, are fans happy to see a former player do so well in the managerial world?
“As a smaller football club it’s not often we get noticed in the wider world of football. Occasionally we do however have some notable people associated with the club. David Moyes is one along with the likes of England number Joe Hart and all time football league high scorer Arthur Rowley. 

All Salopians wish him well in his career at Manchester United. We will never forget the day he returned to the Gay Meadow with his Everton side for an FA Cup 3rd round tie on the 4th January 2003. The side was packed with Premier League quality including a young Wayne Rooney, but our veteran striker Nigel Jemson clinched a 2-1 win with a 90th minute header.”

Another former City player currently on your books is Chris Weale, how has he performed for you since signing in 2012?
“A player of some quality. Our survival in the third tier last season happened thanks to a string of outstanding performances by the goalkeeper. In a season where goals were hard to come by, he secured us many of the points we need to stay in the division. He walked away with all of the end of season awards.”

With the match being rearranged, can we expect a slightly weakened Salop following despite the first meeting between the two since 1998?
“I think we can expect a considerable difference in the amount of away supporters due to the fixture being re-arranged. I know many people (myself included) who cannot now make the game because of it becoming a night fixture, my reason being an exile at university and relying on trains to get to fixtures.

I’d still like to say there would be a reasonable number of Salopians making the trip but it’s not going to be a large following by any stretch of the imagination. However I’ve spoken to a mate who is going and he’s been granted permission to bring our drum, so there will be a bit of noise from the away end!”

Are there any standout Shrews that City fans should look out for?
“This season young midfielder Aaron Wildig is showing some of the talent which had him on the books of Cardiff City as a youngster. Last season he was a bit player, playing in wide positions. This term he has featured as the key man in his favoured central midfield role. The other key player to watch is young, pacey winger Jon Taylor.”

Last season you finished seven points above the drop zone (16th place) in your first season back in League One. Would you settle for that again or is a higher finish a realistic target?
“Last year’s campaign was our first in the third tier for 15 years where survival was the target. Following the loss of many of our key promotion squad we were all happy with the final position. This season we were hoping to be heading towards the middle of the table and perhaps into the top half. However following a very poor performance in the transfer market, optimistic town fans are hard to come by. We have started reasonably well but are in desperate need of a few key players. An experienced goal scorer is a must. The lack of money spent (none) has a role to play in the low attendances.”

How does Graham Turner set his side up to play?
“Graham Turner is a traditional, old fashioned manager. Anything apart from 4-4-2 and it’s a surprise. Often stubborn to change personal, tactics and style of play. More recently due to our injury problems and lack of players he has decided to play young winger Jon Taylor just off of the striker which has worked well against Swindon and Rotherham.”

Turner let joint-top scorers Marvin Morgan and Matt Richards leave Town in the off-season; has he brought anyone in capable of replacing their goals?
“As I said earlier the striker situation at the club is one of grave concern. We were all hoping for a big name or somebody who is known to score goals; this has not happened. The opinion amongst most of us is that the club is unwilling to spend the money on wages. Cody McDonald was training with us and went elsewhere. We have also been linked with Theo Robinson and prolific Cliftonville striker Liam Boyce.

Tom Bradshaw our young Welsh forward burst onto the scene with two fabulous goals against Crewe as a teenager around 3 years ago. Let’s just say he hasn't done a lot since although this season he is looking more promising as he is getting more game time. We signed former Celtic and Stoke youth striker John Marsden during the off season. Unfortunately he got injured in our second game of the season and will be out for a couple of months with a broken foot. We’re hopeful midfielders Taylor, Wildig and Parry will chip in with goals, along with Villa loanee striker Graham Burke.”

So far you've drawn four out of six in the league, have they been fair results or do you feel you've dropped points?
“It’s hard to say really. We could have quite easily won all four of those games but then in the cases on Crawley and Coventry we could have lost them as well. I’d of liked to see us win a couple of those games, Rotherham away in particular was one where we should have returned with the victory. Six games in though and with only one league defeat I’m more than happy with that!”

Finally, can I please get a prediction for the match?
“A tough game for us; all of them are at this level. Personally I would take a point. Travelling to a larger club such as City we know it’s going to be difficult. I hear that things aren’t going to well for you however we never seem to get the wins away from home we deserve. A win would be amazing but I'd be delighted to travel back to Shropshire with a point; the way the season has started it’ll probably end up that way. Let’s say 1-1 with Tom Bradshaw scoring for us.”

The Exiled Robin

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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Inside Line: Peterborough United (14/09/2013)

After a win against the G*s and a refreshing international break, it’s back to the serious business of the league as City welcome a familiar face in Peterborough United to Ashton Gate.

The Posh have hit the ground running so far with a flood of goals and currently sit in third position with all but one of their squad having played Championship football last term.  Whilst I'd love to say this was a top-of-the-table clash against our promotion rivals, in contrast City boast a bill of fresh faces and are very much a work in progress with a mixed set of results to date.

Posh also boast one of the longest-running and betterclub podcasts around and I’m pleased that Lewis Hancock sought out two of its stalwarts, host Jamie Jones and regular contributer John Verrall to introduce us to one of the favourites for the League One title.

You were relegated alongside us last campaign. Whilst ours was warranted, did you consider your demotion to be unlucky (Posh went down with 54 points, a record tally for a relegated side. Remarkably, they also scored more goals than Hull City and only won four fewer games than Crystal Palace, both of whom are now in the Premier League)?
Jamie Jones: To have made such a terrible start last season (losing our first 7 games), we ended up having an amazing second half of the season. To come within 2 minutes of staying in The Championship, only to concede the winner at Selhurst Park on the final day was my worst moment in 31 years of watching The Posh. We weren’t unlucky though, we finished with the 3rd worst points total in the division over 46 matches so deserved to be relegated

John Verrall: Yes, whilst there is a common cliché in football that the league table never lies, for us, last season’s table felt like it did.  Granted, there is no excuse to making as bad a start as we did – losing 14 of our first 18 games – but Darren Ferguson developed the squad by making a series of astute signings and tactical changes and we soon showed that the squad that we had in place was perfectly capable of competing at Championship level, losing just five times in the league in 2013.

You’ve only lost one in all competitions so far this season, scoring 25 goals in the process (including a 6-0 hammering of Championship side Reading). Are Posh capable of carrying on this sort of form?
JJ: We have been absolutely brilliant in 3 games so far (Notts County away, Tranmere Away, Reading at home), average but winning in 2 (Oldham and Swindon at home) and then pretty dire in 2 (Crawley at home, Crewe away).  Fergie has persisted with the midfield diamond, which has served us well in the past but can also lead to a real lack of width and pace. He is also still yet to really decide on his favoured back 4 and midfield quartet. Once he can settle on a starting 11, we will kick on again.

JV: Despite our impressive record we haven’t actually hit top-gear yet and some of our performances – especially at home – have fallen short of expectations.  There is certainly a hope that we can at least continue this current form, but I think most are expecting an improvement on the manner of our performances, even if that sounds a funny thing to say after such a successful start.

Peterborough are many fans’ tip for the League One title this season (ER - including mine!), do you share that view and is promotion a realistic target?
JJ: In our pre-season podcast, both Chris (my co-host) and I predicted that we would win the league. That makes us sound like arrogant toss-pots, but I still firmly believe it. I honestly think that we have the strongest squad in this league, and if we can keep it together and get some consistent spells of form then we will go up. 

We are strong all over the pitch, from Olejnik in goal to Zakuani/Boswick in defence through Payne/McCann in midfield and Assombalonga with a rejuvenated Tyrone Barnett up front. The key to it all though is Lee Tomlin. Like George Boyd before him, he has become our talisman, the player that makes the whole team tick, which is why Darragh will fight to keep him.

JV: As I said earlier, the squad that got relegated from the Championship last year proved that it was capable of competing at that level.  We have only lost one player from that team – albeit probably the biggest star in Dwight Gayle – and we have replaced him with Britt Assombalonga, who has been excellent so far.

There is an expectation that has never been around London Road before this season and there can be no question that we have one of the best squads in this division, so anything other than promotion will be seen as a failure.

Darragh MacAnthony, is a very honest, expressive chairman and interacts with supporters via Twitter on a regular basis. What are your opinions on him?
JJ: Darragh has always been open and expressive since he arrived at London Road. This used to be via the local media and even via 2 very honest and frank interviews that he gave to our unofficial fans podcast. 

Since then, fans across the country and the media have embraced his style and thus he now has a big following on Twitter and is regularly on Sky Sports News. I would say that 99% of Posh fans are very glad to have him as our Chairman, and personally I am delighted that he continues to push the club forward.

JV: MacAnthony is probably the best thing that ever has happened to Peterborough United. He has transformed this club from top to bottom since his arrival in 2006.  He brought a purpose and an ambition to the club that it had never had before and then backed it up with an intelligent plan.

He insisted that he would try to bring in the best, young players from the lower-leagues and non-league football and test them at higher levels and with the new found funding that he provided Posh could finally afford to bring in talented players. Since then we’ve had the likes of Dwight Gayle, Ryan Bennett, George Boyd, Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron McLean, to name just a few, and times have never been better to follow Posh.

Posh made a very healthy profit when selling Dwight Gayle to Crystal Palace. How well has record-signing Britt Assombalonga done to fill the void?
JJ: We have got a very proud reputation for buying strikers, developing them and then selling them on for huge profits. The early signs are that Britt will follow in the footsteps of Dwight Gayle, Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron McLean.

Britt has hit the ground running with his goals, and if he gets a chance in behind the back 4 then nobody will stop him. He is still raw in some of his link up play, and the dirty, horrible work that all centre forwards need to do when in a Fergie team, but his potential is huge. Many Posh fans, myself included, snapped up the 22/1 that was on offer for him to be League One top scorer on the eve of the season

JV: He’s made a very bright start. He has already scored five goals for the club and he looks a real threat. He is very quick and very clinical – the two attributes that made Gayle such a success here – but Gayle looked slightly closer to the finished article than Assombalonga currently is, despite still having rawness in his game.

Assombalonga, though, has all the facets to his game that are needed to make a top striker. He can drop deep, and possesses excellent strength for a player of his size, but he can also run in behind and generally prefers to play on the shoulder of the last defender.

He could well be the next in a long-line of Posh strikers to go on and make a name for himself here before moving onto a higher level.

Who else should City fans watch out this coming Saturday?
JJ: Tyrone Barnett has been a revelation this season. We bought him for a club record £1.1m a couple of years ago, and after a good start he went totally downhill. After some awful performances on the pitch, and a late-night town-centre skirmish that infuriated Fergie, he went out on loan last season and we all thought that was his time at London Road over. 

Pre-season, as fans I think we would happily have given him a free transfer and paid for his taxi to another club. He then did well in pre-season, got into the team and is now showing that he can be a massive aerial presence, links play very well and has a really sharp eye for goal for such a big man.

JV: Lee Tomlin is probably the best player in League One, on his day. Tomlin has the ability, I believe, to play in the Premier League, but whether he makes it to the top will all depend on his attitude. He can be petulant, but he can also be brilliant and if he can perform to his maximum then he should have no problems forcing the move that he has publically been asking for.

However, Tomlin hasn’t played at the top of his game in any of league fixtures so far and the star of the show has been a somewhat surprising package in Tyrone Barnett.  This season he has been like a new signing for us and his pace and power has caused no end of problems. He has scored in every away game we have played so far this season and will look to continue this run on Saturday

John's already discussed Lee Tomlin, who is a player documented for wanting out. Is it damaging having a player in your squad that doesn’t want to be there?
JJ: It is frustrating that he wants to leave certainly. On his day, Tomlin is one of the finest players I have ever seen wear the blue shirt. When he is not on his day, he can be petulant, petty and incredibly annoying. With Boydy gone to Hull, we really need Tomlin to stay, at least until the end of the season to help fire us back to the Championship.  Celtic were, to be blunt, idiots offering £1.2M and then £1.4M for him. I don’t blame the lad for wanting to go, but Darragh never sells our players cheaply and certainly not Lee Tomlin, who is his favourite player.

What's important now is that the lad gets on with the games ahead of him and gets us back into winning ways. I fear that January will see further bids from Celtic, with his agent attempting again to force Posh into accepting a deal. He is still under contract though, so will only be allowed to leave when Darragh/Fergie consider the timing and the price is right.

JV: Yes, I’ve already touched upon this briefly, but the hope is that Tomlin will continue to play to the standard that he set himself towards the back-end of last season.

His attitude is a worry, mind and he isn’t as professional as other players that we have had, and kept, in similar scenarios before – such as George Boyd and Aaron McLean – so there can certainly be a question of how well he will apply himself.

And finally, can I please get a prediction for the match?
JJ: We are unbeaten away from home, and I think that will continue with a 1-1 draw. I am sure Baldock will score for you and provoke the displeasure of the travelling Posh fans. Thanks to his Franchise FC connections and his very odd “almost” transfer to London Road a couple of years ago, he is not popular with the Posh fans.

JV: I think this is the toughest test we have faced so far this season and I would be happy with a point, to be honest. I expect it to be a close encounter – 1-1, seems a likely result.

The Exiled Robin

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Saturday, 7 September 2013

Ashton Vale: The beginning of the end?

The reported news that a deal has been struck on the future of Ashton Vale appears to signal the end of Steve Landown's desperate fight to establish a new facility for City, and for the city.  

Whilst I'm sure the club will issue a short, formal statement in due course, talking about covering all options and ensuring there are back-up plans in place, everything now points to the fact that should the Ashton Gate re-development be given a green light, it will immediately revert from being the publicly-intimated Plan B, to the preferred option.  The only option.

I've suggested ever since those revised plans were first announced that the club was on the verge of giving up on Lansdown's Ashton Vale dream and the postponement of the Ashton Vale enquiry, due to start in early October, is almost certainly in no small part due to the legal costs still being racked up by the day, an outgoing that would only have increased exponentially once the hearing got underway.  

It now appears as if the tiny minority of opposition has 'won'. I deliberately put 'won' in inverted commas because I'm still not certain what they have achieved, other than ensuring an area of waste-land on the edge of the city remains an area of wasteland.  In fact, they might not even have 'won' that.  If the agreement reported is new housing or low-level office-blocks, something that may not be contentious as a "noisy & disruptive" football stadium, then the land could go by the wayside anyway, but that's all for another day.

For many this will be good news.  A significant portion of the supporter base has always resisted a move away from Ashton Gate, and I'm sure we can all understand why. More than 100 years of history and many lifetimes of visits would make it hard for anyone to move.  What struck me about the announcement of the Ashton Gate redevelopment (remember, initially it was indicated this wasn't a suitable option in any shape or form) was that a huge number of fans seemed to sway back from a 'head' decision (Ashton Vale is undoubtedly a more lucrative path to follow) towards a 'heart' decision, and I sensed a majority now feel that the plans we saw are more than adequate.  The fact we stay in the same place, can park in the same spots, go to the same pubs before the match and possibly even stay in the same seats (roughly!), will appeal to many.

But what no-one can argue with is that for the city as a whole, looking at the bigger picture, a trick has been sorely missed.  The opportunity to develop an edge of town area with commercial facilities and new transport links has been wasted. The chance to finally have a venue for events worth it's name gone for now, possibly forever.  Whereas the likes of Cardiff, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool continue to grow their appeal with cultural development and attractions for young, affluent people, Bristol and the West has turned down a golden opportunity to spend money that isn't even the tax-payers' contribution.

On this note, I'd like to share with you something that came across my inbox.  A letter from a certain Mr. P Binning, which was sent to the Evening Post.  Not me by the way, but my Dad - I obviously got the writing bug from somewhere!  A lifelong City supporter and successful entrepreneur himself, having started his own business with his partner from scratch in the 1970's, then growing and developing it ever since.  

He has spotted something I'm sure you'll find interesting about one particular aspect of the blockages we've come across.  I'll leave you all to formulate your own opinions.

"I was recently reading the August/ September edition of the "Business Leader" magazine for the South West and came across an article on business growth. The article was citing the crucial role that entrepreneurs have to play, and the fact that they are essential to restoring growth in the UK economy.

Extracting a few of the appropriate comments the article said that "government debt is a strategic straight-jacket and opponent to wealth creation and entrepreneuraliasm. In a highly competitive global economic environment, it is entrepreneurs in all industries that will be the drivers of change and creators of  prosperity."

What fine and commonsense words these are from a local MP, I thought. Who might that be, you may ask? Well, it's none other than North Somerset MP Dr. Liam Fox! Yes, the same Liam Fox who in an article in the Bristol Post last year, said he would "fight tooth and nail" and "do everything in his power" to stop Ashton Vale Stadium being built. Let's not forget that this development of nearly £100 million and creator of 1000 jobs is to be financed entirely by entrepreneur Stephen Lansdown, with no drain whatsoever on the local public purse.

How gullible do these politicians think we are? Is it any real surprise that ordinary people don't trust them?  I don't think so. What hypocrites! The trouble with the political class of all parties is that they think they are superior to other people and hold the only opinions that matter. Thankfully I do not live in Dr. Fox's constituency but, if I did, I certainly know where my vote would not be going at the next General Election."

I encourage you all to tweet a link to this post to Dr. Fox at @LiamFoxMP, or write to him if that old-fashioned quaintness appeals, to ask his view of this article and why, if he is so keen to drive prosperity and entrepreneurialism, he stood in the way of one of Bristol's most successful businessmen ploughing his own fortune into a new development? Perhaps we should ask how many other £90m investments he has secured for Bristol and the surrounding area since this resistance?

It probably won't make a jot of difference, he will probably be self-congratulating himself on his 'victory', but it might at least make him think, a little, about what the city is about to miss out on.

The net result of all of this is that Lansdown has missed out on his second big target.  We all know how much he's spent on chasing the Premier League dream, but this crusade would also have cost him - I'd be surprised if he hasn't spent more than £1m to date on planning, surveyors, lawyers and all sorts of other highly-paid professionals.  

I constantly worry that one day he'll just walk away, have enough of fighting and throwing more money down the drain.  Every time I look at events at Cardiff, Coventry and the Hull City Tigers, amongst others, I count my blessings that we have a genuine fan as our benefactor and that day is a threat to our club.

The prospect of change at the top at City is frightening.  It shouldn't have been for those making decisions on the new stadium.

The Exiled Robin

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