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Monday, 25 November 2013

The Inside Line: Leyton Orient (26/11/2013)

Tuesday night sees the visit of the surprise team of the season in League One – or perhaps any league, and any season – when ex-Yeovil manager Russell Slade brings Leyton Orient to Ashton Gate.

A mere 80-or-so places separate the two clubs if form in all of 2013 is taken into account across all four divisions, and whilst City have largely floundered, been relegated and struggled to adapt, the O’s have put a remarkable run together, coming close to ambushing the play off party last season, whilst being seemingly unstoppable this time around.

Their success has been put down to stability and consistency, something which as we’re finding out is easy to say when things are going well, less easy to stick to if they’re going wrong, but another tale to draw on for those who insist longevity and a settled management team are key to long-term success.

Stu Radnedge picks up the story with Matt Simpson, author of a book on Leyton Orient’s greatest players and the man who runs the O’s blog, View from the West Stand

There can't be any other first question than to ask about the O's league form. Sprinting to the top of the table since the season began. What's gone so well at Brisbane Road?
In all my dark, soul-destroying years of supporting Orient I've never seen a squad with such spirit, resilience and talent. In years past when we went 1-0 down I expected us to go on to lose 3-0. Then we'd actually lose 5-0. Now even if we do go behind I always think we’ll come back and win – as we did against MK Dons, Peterborough and Swindon. Our defence is solid; our midfield has grit and creativity; and we’ve got three strikers (Lisbie, Mooney and Batt) who are in incredible form and scoring regularly. Either that or evil alien dopplegangers have replaced the entire team.

Orient – perhaps surprisingly to many – finished seventh last season, so was there any disappointment that you didn't make the play-offs?
Not really – we had a typically appalling start to the season so even when we climbed the table post-Christmas the play-offs always felt a little out of reach.

With last season’s good finish in mind, are you surprised to have made such a great start?
Even the most delusionally positive fans couldn’t have imagined a start this great – especially given how atrociously we’ve started the last six seasons. But on the other hand this form is really a continuation of the latter half of last season. In fact, if you look at our record for 2013, we are statistically the best football team on the entire planet. Probably.

We're edging closer to the halfway stage in the season now, can you maintain this form and, if not, where do you now think you'll finish?
To be honest it’s going to be extremely tough for us to stay in the top two until the end of the season, given the size of our squad and our budgets compared to the teams around us. However, given the start, and our form, I would now be absolutely gutted if we didn’t at least make the play-offs.

With such a successful start comes attention. I read an article with your manager Russell Slade, who has attributed this season's performance to management and stability. Would you agree with this, and why?
Yes, I’d agree with anything Russell Slade says at the moment!. He has to take massive credit for getting us where we are. He’s brought in all but one of the current squad – without paying a single penny in transfer fees – and has got them working hard for each other. The stability is important too. Our first game of the season did not feature a single debutant – which is pretty unusual – and the first-choice XI has been consistent since about January.

You’ve been involved in a long-running battle over the use of the Olympic stadium.  Do you want to watch Orient in a stadium that’s 90% empty and would it really be good for the club and atmosphere?
No one wants to watch their football team in a half-empty stadium – which is something West Ham fans will have to get used to since they couldn’t even sell out Upton Park for their recent derby against Chelsea. But it’s going to be difficult for Orient to ever really progress in our current 9,000-seater stadium, especially when West Ham will be literally begging local school-children to come and watch them half a mile down the road. Imagine we’re in the Championship next season: it would be very difficult to stay there with such small potential gates. I’m not sure ground-sharing the Olympic Stadium is the answer, but West Ham being given taxpayers money to encroach on our potential future fan base is absolutely scandalous.

What do you think of your chances at Ashton Gate? Are you fearful of any players, tactics, etc?
I have to say our chances are good, I’m afraid – our confidence is sky high after the victory over Swindon on Saturday. In previous seasons we’d always follow an impressive victory over a top-half team with a loss against one in the bottom, but that doesn’t seem to have happened yet this campaign. We’ll need to keep an eye on Emmanuel-Thomas, of course, and it won’t be easy, but I think we’ll prevail. Just.  

What threat do City fans have to be aware of upon the O's visit to BS3?
Kevin Lisbie and David Mooney who, according to Iain Dowie, are “the Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke of League One”. Mooney in particular has scored some cracking goals in the last few games and Lisbie is a class act. Dean Cox is our most creative player and young Moses Odubajo on the right wing is fast and dangerous.

Watch out for central midfielder Romain Vincelot too – he’s easy to spot because his socks will be round his ankles. And the beard, I suppose.  

My thanks to Matt & Stu, a big test indeed for City where another defeat would undo all the good work put in over the past few weeks, so fingers crossed...

The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Inside Line: Sheffield United (23/11/2013)

Those of you who have followed my blog for some time, or perhaps once-upon-a-time may have perused my ramblings in the City programme, may recall this week’s guest as I featured his Blades blog in this piece a couple of years ago.

Ian Rands, host of ‘A United View’ has had a highly successful couple of years, with a series of interviews with ex-Blades and one particularly thoughtful post about his son’s exposure to the dark side of football helping him to be shortlisted for the 2012 Football Supporters’ Federation Football Blogger of the Year award and going one better to take The Two Unfortunates award of the same distinction.

Thus I’ve been looking forward to welcoming Ian to this feature since the fixtures were announced as I knew I’d get an insightful, balanced, thoughtful and detailed view of life at Bramall Lane – and he’s delivered just that.

Sheffield United have suffered an even worse start to the season than City and new boss David Weir paid with his job after just 13 matches.  Nigel Clough was appointed with a long-term transition plan in mind (sound familiar City fans?) and has started with a mixed bag, with two victories balanced by defeats at home to Gillingham and at Shrewsbury.

Ian, what went so wrong for Weir and what do you perceive to be Clough’s greatest challenges in the short-term to, dare I say it, keep you out of the bottom division?
Three things went wrong for Weir for me. Expectations were raised in our first game as we played fantastic football and created lots of chances against Notts County in the Football League season opener on Sky. Hindsight is wonderful thing, but the reality was United were up against a poor County side, who were reduced to 10 men for much of the match, allowing United the space to play.

Pivotal in that win was Kevin McDonald, playing just behind a lone striker and between two wide men. Weir had forged his pre-season planning around McDonald and felt this was the formation to bring out the best in the languid midfielder whose influence had waned over the previous season. Unfortunately the Scot had a clause in his contract which was activated by Wolves and he left shortly after.

Bereft of McDonald's prompting and creativity the team was pedestrian and possessed little goal threat. Passing the ball on the deck is great, but it has to progress into the final third. Players looked increasingly disinterested, with little heart and passion in their play and on-pitch results and performances got progressively worse.

Clough has an almighty job on re-balancing an over-sized squad of players, overburdened in some areas (central midfield), whilst lacking elsewhere (our only cover in central defence is one of our full backs). Numbers are high, but the quality isn't and to bring in his own players it will take a significant clear out in January. But who will buy? Or even borrow?!

In addition he has to inject some self-belief and interest in players that, if rumours are true, have demonstrated a lack of respect for previous managers, their staff and their tactics in the last 12 months.

You initially indicated a lack of excitement at Clough’s appointment, has anything changed with what you’ve seen so far, albeit with a limited exposure?
The lack of excitement was due to a disappointing and somewhat bizarre shortlist - Cec Podd at 16-1 anyone? This was a clear sign of where we are as a club, Arabian money or not.

Clough is a good manager given where we are, but his record is fundamentally unexciting in recent years. You can point to the difficult financial transition from Jewell's squad of overpaid failures at Pride Park, to Clough's side injected with youth products, but the view from Derby was mixed. It perhaps erred to positive, but a lack of recent success (even relatively speaking) remains a concern.

How has Clough looked to set up his team in his short time in charge so far, is he already trying to instil ‘the Clough way’?
He is certainly trying to make his mark. He seems to have tried to steady the ship, although you could argue Chris Morgan and Mick Wadsworth had already done that whilst in temporary charge. He has switched from Weir's 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-1-1 to playing a traditional 4-4-2. Many Weir signings have not had a look-in and Clough has focused on both experienced players and the more workman-like ones, utilising them in a way which focuses on players performing quite disciplined roles. When the starting eleven was named for the 2-0 defeat at Shrewsbury it was commented on how we had more creativity and flair on the bench than we had on the pitch.

I think there will be changes on Saturday. Despite putting the loss to Gillingham down to defensive errors, Clough's post-match interview pointed to a recognition that certain players had failed to impress.  If the experienced solid players let you down, then things have to change.

Clough can best be judged when he has had the chance to bring in his own signings and shaped the team how he wants it. For now, his words and sentiments are right and welcomed, that will need to be translated on to the pitch.

City fans would have kept half an eye on your results in the recent past with Danny Wilson in charge, was it surprising timing when he was sacked with the Blades on the brink of the play-off picture with only a few games to go?
Absolutely. Despite the crowd getting on his and the team's back the timing was bizarre in the least. United were in a Play Off position, but goal shy and rarely winning games. The capitulation at home to Crawley was poor, strewn with defensive errors, dull and limp play and a lack of willingness from the manager to make changes. However bad it was, I never expected Wilson to lose his job at that stage.

Some fans have said that we would have faded and not made the play-offs under Wilson. Given Chris Morgan's record in temporary charge at the end of last season and the results in that period, I am not sure that is a valid argument. We stumbled into the play offs, like a teenager let loose on the Jagerbombs for the first time, crowning it with a second leg performance at Yeovil which was the equivalent of throwing up on your girlfriend's parents' front doorstep. Would we really have embarrassed ourselves anymore under Wilson? I doubt it.

Yes the timing was awful, even more so with hindsight, but let's not forget that this is a club and board that sacked Kevin Blackwell after 3 games of a season. The timing of that decision, more than the decision itself can be pinpointed as when the rot set in at Bramall Lane. A catalogue of bad decisions followed.

I can’t omit to mention the signing of Marlon King. I'm fairly certain many club’s fans would accept a young player’s single misdemeanour – everyone deserves a second chance after all, don’t they?  But King has a pretty appalling track record and is derided and despised in equal measure by fans around the country.  Bearing in mind you’ve also got the recent experience of Ched Evans’ conviction (of which Ian wrote a fabulously balanced and emotive article), I wonder how warmly was King welcomed to Bramall Lane and has it (further?) damaged the club’s perception amongst the loyal fan-base?
It has upset some fans and there will be a few that have followed through on their statement not to go to Bramall Lane whilst he is at the club. His introduction pre-match on his home debut was greeted with a mixed response and although his only goal for the club was greeted with cheers, that was more a sign of relief that we had scored than any great show of support.

Personally, I was disappointed with his arrival. He is not a young player who has done something stupid or made a mistake, he is a serial criminal who has shown little remorse for his actions and when given the opportunity on local radio to do so, firmly chose not to.

Some of the "don't care if he scores goals" forum posters, may well be caring a bit more now. These will be the same people who chant Lee Hughes is a murderer, but care not about our signings. Not only do we have a player/human being with a bad reputation and a violent past, we also have a half fit one who is being paid well for little effect on the pitch. A pretty grim situation all round.

The Blades have a fairly decent record of producing quality youngsters – are there any current youngsters likely to be performing on Match of the Day any time soon?
We are the 8th best producers of talent in the country over the last three years according to independent assessment and although there is promise further down the ranks, there are no real signs of new talent immediately breaking through.

There was a buzz last season about forward Diego De Girolamo (he's from Chesterfield!) last season, but having made the breakthrough in to the first team squad he suffered serious knee injury playing for Italy Under 18's. If anything, unrealistic expectations are being placed on the lad and who knows whether we will see the same player and potential after a serious injury that would have ended careers years ago. He may well return to action early in the new year.

United have always had a good record of having decent goalkeepers and are now developing a niche in spotting and developing them. Following in George Long's footsteps is 18 years old George Willis - capped at England U16/17/19 level, Gareth Owen has been on standby for Wales U19, while Jake Eastwood has been called up by England U18s.

The last 12 months has seen stagnation in the development of both George Long and Harry Maguire. Thrown into the first team based on both their talent and necessity, there is a danger of them playing too much too young. Mistakes, perhaps natural given their age, are becoming more prevalent and perhaps firing a warning shot at Blades fans who over-hype.

Other graduates of the side which lost to Manchester United in the 2011 FA Youth Cup Final seem to be stalling as well. Callum McFadzean looked to be breaking through until a recent city centre assault brought his discipline and future into question. Striker Joe Ironside has been given fleeting chances, but is yet to score a league goal and now finds himself on loan at FC Halifax Town. Youth team captain Elliot Whitehouse looked primed for a chance until injury problems last pre-season set him back and he is currently on loan at York.

In sounding so negative, it is easy to forget that Matt Lowton was a reasonably later developer, making the first team squad after loans to Ferencvaros (Hungary) and Sheffield FC and at a point in time when many fans had written off his chances of making it. There's still time for a few of these lads.

Who else should City fans be watching out for on Saturday?
Miller was the pick of our players in a poor performance on Saturday. Returning from a long term injury he is yet to score but was busy and always looking to create opportunities for himself and others. He formed a good partnership in a few games partnered with Chris Porter last season and his injury played a big part in our post-Christmas slump.

Having said that, Clough hinted midweek that Miller might need a game's rest as he continues to build fitness, so that may leave the door open for Jose Baxter on Lyle Taylor to get back in the side.

If Miller doesn't play it is difficult to pick a player out, both on current form and on the basis we may see changes to the starting eleven. Players such as Baxter or Taylor, who may get a chance, need to show more than the fleeting glimpses of quality that we have seen so far and that we are sure they are capable of.

Tell us something we might not know about Sheffield United?
We are the original United, the first football club to take the name.

And finally, who’s going to come out on top in this relegation six-pointer?

I honestly cannot see United winning. Your unbeaten run should stretch to 6, albeit I hope we have enough about us to get a point. Both fans and manager need to see a reaction to last week's disappointing loss to Gillingham. If we don't then it is clear how big a task Clough faces.

My immense thanks to Ian for his time and effort.  I, for one, hope Sheffield United can pick up form, providing it's after Saturday. They're a proud club with an almost unmatched history and with their record of producing very good, young English footballers of note, they're an asset worth watching out for.

The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Inside Line: Tranmere Rovers (16/11/2013)

Over to Lewis Hancock for this week's preview...

Finally, a turn in the road for City leading towards a more upbeat and more optimistic future! Well, perhaps anyway.
Sean O’Driscoll’s ‘transitional phase’ has started to come together of late and with seven points from nine and a relatively comfortable victory over Dagenham & Redbridge in the FA Cup, City are beginning to quash any qualms that some fans may have.
But some of the jury are still out at the moment and a trip away to Tranmere will not be the easiest of tasks.
Rovers take up the final spot in the drop zone with City merely a place above on goal difference and a win at Prenton Park could be what is needed to climb away from relegation scrap.
However, Tranmere have more concerning internal matters to deal with at present. Midfielder Joe Thompson has begun his six-month long chemotherapy after contracting cancer at just 24-years-old, something that really puts football and life into perspective.
I’ve spoken to Paul Harper, host of the@Total Tranmere podcast, and started by asking whether the fans were preparing to respect him with a minute’s applause on the minute of his squad number, or preparing anything of that ilk?

It was shocking news about Joe. You don't expect someone so young and so fit to get something like this. It certainly puts things into perspective and we are right behind him in his recovery. In the 7th minute, there will be a minute’s applause to demonstrate our support to Joe. I'm sure the Bristol City fans would like to show their support to him too, so if you'd like to get involved in that applause that would be fantastic. The match after the news was revealed we played away at Preston and their club and supporters were fantastic and I'm sure the Robins fans will be no different. Like you say, it puts football into perspective.
Your club are in talks with various parties over a potential sale. What will a change in owners mean for Tranmere Rovers? Are you hopeful of the Tranmere Rovers Trust taking over?

It appears that chairman Peter Johnson is actively looking to sell the club in the near future. He has been looking to do so for a number of years now, but it seems that the time is coming ever closer. He has been fantastic for the club, saving us back in 1987 when the club almost fell out of the Football League, and has done a great deal in his tenure at the helm of the club. In terms of new owners, it's a time of a bit of uncertainty really. The Trust are looking to takeover and I do like the idea of being a community club ran by the supporters with the best interests of the club. However, I am a little sceptical about how it may work longer term. They have some good ideas about increasing revenue coming in to the club, but whether it would make community ownership sustainable then I must say I do have one or two doubts.
Ryan Lowe has been in good form this season, scoring seven goals in all competitions. What does he bring to the Rovers set up? Is he pivotal in the way you play?

Ryan Lowe is a goal-scorer, pure and simple. He's been vital for us, especially in the last few weeks when he has been leading the line up front on his own. He only needs one chance to stick the ball in the net, which is lucky because we only seem to be providing him with one chance per game! Hopefully, we can give him some more service so he can get us a few more goals and help fire us up the table.
Who else should City fans watch out for they make the trip to Prenton Park?

Now that would be telling! Depends which formation Ronnie Moore goes with. If he sticks with the 4-5-1/4-3-3 then Abdulai Baggie for me is a key player. He's the only player we have with electric pace. And if we're counter attacking teams, then he's key to that. He has quick feet, can beat a player and deliver a good cross. If he has a good game, then he will cause the Bristol City defence problems undoubtedly.
You currently sit fourth from bottom in League One, is that a fair reflective on how you’ve played so far? Did you consider the possibility of a relegation scrap prior to the start of the season?

In all honesty, it is a fair reflection, yes. We've been pretty poor so far this season, although recent form has picked up and we're playing a lot better than we were at the start of the season. We did have a lot of injury problems early season and a lot of those players are on their way back so the squad is looking stronger again. I try not to consider relegation! I was looking at a mid-table finish pre-season, and I think that is still achievable if we continue to improve as we have been.
How does Ronnie Moore set his side up to play?

Ronnie has nearly always been a rigid 4-4-2 manager. But with the players we had missing, and the poor results we were getting, he changed to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 system and it has worked well. We are more difficult to break down and defensively are looking more solid. In the opening few games, we were getting torn apart too easily and that had to stop which it has. I think against the better teams he will persist with the 4-5-1.
Finally, can I have a prediction for Saturday’s match?

Hopefully a Rovers win, obviously! I'm expecting a very difficult game though, so maybe more realistically a draw.

The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Inside Line: Dagenham & Redbridge (09/11/2013)

Although performances may have been less eye-pleasing, the last two weeks have seen City break a number of hoodoos; the first clean sheet since April, the first home win since March, indeed, the first win of any sort since March and the first away win in almost a year under Sean O’Driscoll’s tutelage.

Earlier in the season we finally tasted some cup success after a number of barren years with victories over Bristol Rovers and Crystal Palace particularly noteworthy, so now it’s time for the last remaining true hoodoo I can think of, progress in the F.A.Cup.  Now it should be noted we’re entering at an earlier stage than at any point in the past seven years, but even so, we’ve still managed to find some way of losing out to mediocre opponents, especially at home, year after year.

Saturday sees League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge visit Ashton Gate for the first round of the F.A. Cup as the Daggers become the latest team to attempt to inflict cup misery on the BS3 faithful.
Mark from @9men is a Daggers fan who kindly agreed to answer Stuart Radnedge's questions.

Formed in 1992, the club has risen from the Isthmian League to the third tier of the Football League, before falling back recently.  What did it mean to the club to win promotion to League One in the 2009/10 season?  By winning in the play-offs at Wembley, did it feel like it might to taste an F.A. Cup final victory?
Winning the play-offs at Wembley was an incredible moment and certainly sweeter than any Cup win I have experienced in my years as a supporter. I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a lump in the throat on the final whistle and the celebrations will live long in the memory. For a club of our size to be promoted to compete alongside Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday isn't something that happens every day.

The following season the club dropped back into League Two and it would appear – following successive finishing positions in the bottom section of the table – that the wheels have fallen off? What has gone wrong?
Once we had been promoted, we sold our top scorer Paul Benson on transfer deadline day. He wasn't replaced, and with his striker partner Josh Scott proceeding to spend the next 2 years injured, we did well to take our fate to the final day and miss out on avoiding relegation by a single point.

Back in League Two we saw our other prize assets sold off and, with very little strength in depth, it meant that we relied on recruits from the lower leagues. Whilst this had worked for us in the past, there was little chance for this batch to bed in before they were thrown into action. We were desperately unlucky with injury which saw us use a huge number of loan players and could never keep a settled side.

It was probably fair to say though that our forward players weren't pulling up any trees and it is a problem we failed to rectify that summer, leading to last season's continued struggle.

How do you feel after finishing last season in 22nd position. Were you lucky to escape the drop or do you feel you deserved survival?
Last season had looked fairly promising until mid-December with us sitting safely in mid-table. However, towards the end of November our only real attacking spark, Dwight Gayle, was sold to Peterborough. We barely scored another goal and won only five more games for the rest of the season. Eventually our long-serving manager John Still saw the writing on the wall and joined Luton, with Wayne Burnett taking his place. His inexperience showed and we looked disorganised for the remainder of the season.

We eventually survived more by luck than judgement. Our last two games against relegation rivals Aldershot and York saw us surrender to limp 1-0 defeats only to be saved by the poor results of others.

This season has begun differently it seems with only two losses in the last 10. What's changed at the club? And what is your team's strength?
Now that Wayne Burnett has got over his difficult start and had a chance to bring in his own players, we look a totally different prospect. The likes of Zavon Hines, Rhys Murphy and Brian Saah represent real quality at our level and they have all made a big impact.

The manager initially tried to change our style too quickly which caused us more harm than good, but this season we look comfortable with his ideas. We play far more football than we used to and have a more fluid shape which allows our more technical players room to shine. We finally have a real goal poacher in Murphy after struggling in that department for 2 and a half of the last 3 years, and we have plenty of midfield players joining the attack with our 2 wide men pushed very high up the pitch. It can mean we are a little short defensively at times but it is certainly exciting.

Our main strength seems to be our ability to fashion a goal when on the back foot, and also we look much more positive when behind in games rather than resigning ourselves to defeat. Our biggest weakness seems to be defending set-pieces so don't be surprised if you guys score from a corner on Saturday!

City's results have improved as of late with a first home win in eight months on Tuesday night against Crawley.  With seven points from a possible nine, has this made Saturday's tie any more worrying for you?
I wouldn't say we are worried. The pressure is on yourselves as the home and higher-ranked side, but of course it would've been nicer had you continued your poor form leading into this game. Hopefully the Cup can prove to be a leveller as it has many times in the past and we'll see a nail-biter this weekend.

Focusing on the cup now, was there a dream tie you were hoping to get in the draw? 
There aren't any particularly tasty ties at this stage so I would imagine we are like most League sides in wanting the lowest-ranked side at home. After all, a couple of kind draws and you can suddenly find yourself visiting Old Trafford.

I guess a few fans would've liked Orient or Southend, but to be honest we're bored of beating Southend this season and Orient are a challenging prospect with the (ex-Dagger) mighty Romain Vincelot in their side!

Who could be the thorn in City's side on Saturday – are there any players we should be wary of?
Zavon Hines (ex West Ham and with two caps for England under 21s) is the obvious danger man and everybody knows it - he's been kicked from pillar to post in recent weeks!

And finally, could I have a score prediction please?
I think with your upturn in form you will edge it 2-1.

Let's hope so! What seems clear is that Sean O'Driscoll has been deterred by the Wycombe performance and subsequent exit from the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, and changes will be minimalised, especially with loan signings Gillett & Tuesday's man-of-the-match Osborne ineligible.

Regardless of the progress we'd all love, momentum will be the key word at Ashton Gate this week and if seven points from nine can be built upon with a cup win then it will instill yet more confidence in this ever-developing squad.


The Exiled Robin

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Monday, 4 November 2013

The Inside Line: Crawley Town (05/11/2013)

After four points from two games in which, for once this season, the points tally has bettered the performances City have an opportunity to pull out of the bottom four as they play their game in hand against Steve Coppell-directed Crawley Town, their first league match against the relative newcomers.

Stu Radnedge has spoken to Steve Hollis who covers Crawley for Sussex-based ‘The Argus’ to get his take on the Bonfire Night visitors to Ashton Gate.

The match was due to take place on Oct 12 but was cancelled due to City having international call-ups. At the time, City's form was pretty woeful and Town's was very good. But as of late there have been three straight defeats for the Red Devils. I'll guess you would have rather played the match on the original date, but what has happened the last couple of weeks that could explain the change in form?
Yes, Crawley would have preferred to have played on the original date as they were on a good run of form then. Not too much has changed in the last three games although they are likely to be missing striker Billy Clarke who is sidelined by a knee injury. They were poor against Port Vale but have been a little unlucky against both Stevenage and Brentford so results can be a little misleading.

There will be a fair amount of local focus on two people - one player and one member of staff. Firstly, can we expect to see ex-City manager Steve Coppell in the stands watch the match?
Coppell is unlikely to be at the game. I think he is going to scout Crawley's FA Cup opponents Hednesford Town in order to avoid a return to Ashton Gate. Coppell is very much in the background at Crawley but manager Richie Barker has admitted his experience has been useful.

The other person City fans will be intrigued to see is Kyle MacFadzean - who we were strongly linked with and bid unsuccessfully for twice, at the beginning of this year. What was your opinion on what happened at the beginning of the year and why did the deal fall through?
I think Kyle would have gone if it hadn't been for the virus which kept him out for so long. The clubs weren't far off agreeing a fee from what I can tell but City needed a player who could come straight in to help their relegation battle and Kyle didn't play again until pre-season.

How do you feel Crawley's season has transpired so far, considering their fairly small squad?
Crawley have a lack of depth in pretty much every position considering they only have a squad of 20. They are fairly well covered at centre-back and centre-forward but everywhere else they don't have many options. Considering their lack of resources they have made a positive start to the season but it will be interesting to see how they respond to the recent blip.

Who should City fans expect to cause us some problems on Tuesday night?
Nicky Adams is a real livewire and is usually involved in most of Crawley's best moments going forward. Kyle Bennett has shown glimpses of what he can do since signing on loan from Doncaster and is an exciting prospect.

Can I have a score-line prediction please?
Crawley tend to do better away from home against the bigger clubs having won at Peterborough, drawn at Sheffield United and lost to an injury-time goal at Wolves so I'm going for a 2-1 Crawley win.

Finally, the repeat fixture is at the Checkatrade.com Stadium on the last game of the season. Do you think the fixture will hold any importance significance for either side?

I can't see Crawley having the strength in depth to mount a play-off challenge but they are too good to get sucked into trouble while I think City should pull away from danger considering their resources.  Could well be a mid-table end of season affair!

A big thank you from me to Steve and Stuart for those thoughts.

I’m confident this will be our first home win of the season, and we may even eke out a clean sheet.  You heard it here first!


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Gillett, the best a manager can get?

A couple of months ago one Nottingham Forest fan said to me on Twitter something along the lines of "I imagine you’ll sign Simon Gillett, he fits perfectly into a Sean O’Driscoll team and system and would be the glue to help it all stick together”

Well, now the glue has arrived and it will be interesting to see how he’s used, and for who.  Bobby Reid probably needs some rest but he’s playing well and is our key creative force in the middle of the park.  Marlon Pack has been made captain following the replacement of Sam Baldock and plays a key role, adding height to the midfield (notice how many headers he wins just in front of the back four) and is probably one of the most composed ball retainers in the XI. Scott Wagstaff has added a goal threat recently to his unquestionable endeavour and effort.

Wherever he fits in, he’s undoubtedly going to do so somewhere. We wouldn’t be paying Championship wages (or at least a portion of) for someone to come and sit on the bench and come on with twenty minutes to go, although that’s the role I expect him to play on Saturday against Lee Johnson’s Oldham.

James Bolton, of View from the Main Stand kindly offered me these thoughts on our new loan signing

“I think Simon Gillett to Bristol City was probably one of the most predictable loan signings to happen this window as he teams up with Sean O’Driscoll for a third time.

At the start of his Forest career he looked to be an inspired signing. He was standing out as an absolute steal in a team which included multi-million pound signings when he arrived at The City Ground after being released by Doncaster. He was an integral player during O’Driscoll’s time at Forest, playing holding midfield. In his early games he did very little wrong. He plays the simple pass, gets stuck in as much as he can and patrols the space in front of the back four.

After O’Driscoll left, he fell out of favour at Forest. He made a fairly costly error in against Derby County, dwelling on the ball for a millisecond too long, allowing Conor Sammon to pinch the ball from him and set up Jamie Ward for an equaliser. 

He hasn’t really had a look in since then, and when Billy Davies returned to the club Gillett found himself very much on the outer fringes of the squad.Under Davies he’s yet to make a league appearance and has only featured in two League Cup games.  I believe he’s been playing fairly regularly for the Under-21s during this time, but due to lack of competitive game time I wouldn’t expect him to be match fit right away. 

I think he’s just about capable of playing at Championship level and possibly would be for us were it not for the depth of talent we have in central midfield. While I don’t know an awful lot about what Bristol City need specifically, O’Driscoll has called for experience in midfield, and he’ll certainly offer that. He’ll be familiar with the way O’Driscoll works so once he regains his sharpness, I’d expect him to do well and hope that he does.

In summary, you can expect a fairly steady performer who is happy to be the unsung hero by keeping things tight in front of the back four, keeping possession when you do have the ball and breaking up play when you don’t.”

Sounds like the sort of player we need at the moment and you never know, we might just keep a clean sheet whilst he’s with us…maybe!

The Exiled Robin

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