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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Inside Line: Gillingham (01/03/2014)

Last week’s “abysmal” display at Bramall Lane has plunged City right back into the relegation scrap just as it looked as if there was an opening to inch clear. A response will be expected by boss Steve Cotterill and it’s certain that the home fans will want to see some fight and commitment from those in red shirts this week, as we play Gillingham for the third time this season.
An all-too-rare clean sheet helped City towards a 2-0 victory – and a home cup tie against Premier League Crystal Palace – at Priestfield in August, whilst a few weeks later Marvin Elliott’s header earned a point against the Kent side.
Luke Cawdell – a sports journalist and Gills’ correspondent for Kent Online – was kind enough to speak to Lewis Hancock for this week’s ‘Inside Line’.
Although in 13th position, Gillingham are only six points above the relegation zone and have to play a lot of teams below them in the table. Do you think there's enough quality in the squad to not be dragged into a relegation scrap? Should Gills fans be worried?
I think the Gills are already in a relegation scrap. They may be sitting mid-table but I don’t think anyone is under any illusions, be that the fans, the players or the manager. The target has been 50+ points for Peter Taylor ever since he came in. So far he is on course to achieve the objective. Plenty of teams below have games in hand but they gave to win those first. Taylor has added some young players from the Premier League and the Championship, like Watford’s Connor Smith and West Ham defender Ryan Inniss. They will all help as the season hots up. There could be a few nervy times ahead but I think the Gills have enough quality to get the results they need.

What do you think of Bristol City's plight this season?
Like most people I have been surprised to see how badly they have done this season. Looking through the squad there is quality aplenty in there. Gills would love to have some of those players, like midfielder Marlon Pack. Sam Baldock is clearly a class above this division and Tyrone Barnett has a decent reputation. Peterborough tried to use him as a bargaining tool to sign Jack Payne a while ago. I am sure Gills fans would have been happy to have a player of Barnett’s quality. City can bring in quality, like Adam El-Abd – players well out of Gills’ price range.

Adebayo Akinfenwa has recently said he's been 'frustrated' about being on the bench a lot of this campaign. Does he have a right to feel aggrieved? Are Gills better off with him in or out of the side?
He came off the bench at the weekend along with McDonald and the pair immediately linked up, creating a chance apiece. Unfortunately the Oldham GK Mark Oxley was in top form. Bayo hasn’t completed many 90 minutes and he’s either been used as sub coming on in the 60th minute, or off. His lack of minutes have come about due to Danny Kedwell’s early season form. Kedwell physique means he can do more work for the team, getting up and down for 90 minutes, and I guess that’s why Bayo has had less minutes. But when Bayo does play, he always has the knack of creating chances, which is why Cody McDonald enjoys playing alongside him so much. If Bayo could do 90 minutes at 100% he wouldn’t be on the bench so much.

It was Akinfenwa that caused the City defence problems in the reverse league fixture. Who else has the potential to hurt City on Saturday?
As mentioned, Cody McDonald has the potential to hurt you. He loves playing off the shoulder of the defender and chasing onto balls. He’s missed a few one on ones this season but scored some real gems as well. He seems to do better when he doesn’t have time to think, it’s more natural instinct. Connor Smith, on loan from Watford, played really well at Oldham, linking the midfield and attack up well. He’s quick and lively and a good passer. He has played well away from home in a 433 formation.

Peter Taylor hinted at selecting the wrong team in the 1-0 loss to Oldham. How does he tend to set his side up to play?
He said he didn’t regret the team he selected. He made six changes and with the chances the team created you could say his team selection worked. Who knows, maybe had McDonald started he could have tucked a few chances away. But even he was denied by the keeper late on. He likes playing 433 away, with two wide men (possibly Weston and Fagan) playing either side of a striker (McDonald or Pigett). A three man midfield was what he set up with at Oldham. He could stick with that again. He hasn’t got many natural wingers in the squad.

Finally, can I have a prediction for the match?

Gills either seem to win or lose under Taylor but I’m going for 1-1 this week!

The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Inside Line: Tranmere Rovers (15/02/2014)

Following on from a remarkable and totally unexpected victory at high-flying Leyton Orient on Tuesday night, City return to Ashton Gate action for the first in a run of four games which, on paper, look very ‘winnable’.

Boss Steve Cotterill has labelled this as the biggest match of our season and it’s hard to argue with that. The three points in midweek have left City sitting in the relatively lofty position of 17th, and whilst others beneath them have games in hand, a win against Tranmere would provide a genuine feeling of confidence around the whole club that a relegation battle might just be won, perhaps even comfortably!

Stu Radnedge talks to Rovers fan, writer and broadcaster, Paul Harper, to find out how the Merseysiders are gearing up for Saturday’s showdown.

In terms of proverbial six-pointers, this is certainly one for both teams. What’s the mood like with the team and your fans at the moment? Do you deserve to be in the position you are in?
It's an important game for both sides. We could really do with a victory on Saturday but it will be a difficult and nervy affair. The team haven't been playing too well of late and there is a mood of apathy among the supporters. There's not been too much to get excited about and it's been a very flat atmosphere in the last few weeks.

Like City, your next three games (a trip to Crawley and home games against Coventry and Oldham) involve teams in the bottom half of the table.  How important are your next four matches?
The next few weeks are massive for us. Get some good results and we pull away from the danger zone and it looks a lot better, fail to do that and we're in deep deep trouble.

You said when you last were interviewed by the Exiled Robin that Ryan Lowe is "a goal scorer" and he certainly is proving just that, having found the net 16 times this season. Is he your main threat and do you have anyone else to watch out for?
Ryan Lowe has been our only goal threat this season to be honest! He's been different class since joining, I have been really impressed by him. You want others to contribute and especially from midfield but goals have been few and far between in those departments. The defenders have scored a couple recently from set pieces but in terms of open play, Lowey is definitely the main threat.

How is the club's security faring with talks of it being up for sale in November? Are we any nearer a resolution?
Answers on a postcard! It seems that Peter Johnson would like to sell the club and release his involvement at the end of the season, but who knows what is going on with any possible takeover.

The supporters trust declared their interest but haven't really got the funds. There have been rumours of other interested parties but nothing has materialised yet so it's very much up in the air. It is worrying because if Peter Johnson steps down at the end of the season, I don't know what will happen at the club if no new buyer can be found.

City's victory against Orient on Tuesday night should give the home side a huge boost. Who do you fear most when the sides meet on Saturday?
That was a great result at Orient in midweek, and no doubt you will be buoyed by that victory. I look at the forwards you have and Jay Emmanuel Thomas impressed me at Prenton Park. You have two good loan players too in Wade Elliott and Tyrone Barnett who will need us to keep a close eye on. But you have good players throughout the side, you should not be near the bottom given the quality of the individuals in your squad, in my opinion.

The weather is causing a real backlog in fixtures for some clubs. Your next match against Crawley is almost certain to be postponed based on recent history!? With that many games left to play for some of the clubs down the bottom, do you feel it creates a false presentation of the clubs nearer the bottom, and will this work in Tranmere's favour?
Haha, yeah Crawley have got a bit of catching up to do! I'd rather have the points on the board but the reality is that Tranmere still need a good few points, whether the games are spread out or come thick or fast. It might give us a bit of an advantage, I certainly hope it does!

Getting nearer to the end of the season, where do you see yourself finishing?
I'm just hoping that we are safe before the last game of the season. My nerves could not take it! We do have some good players and the frustrating thing is seeing how well we can play at times, but the consistency has not been there at all and we can look good for 20 mins and then awful for the remaining 70! There's been no happy medium. I'll say we'll finish 16th.

Can I get a score prediction for Saturday's game please?
It will be a tough game for us, but for some reason I fancy us to get something. Would be happy with a draw but think we might sneak it. Call it wishful thinking!

My thanks to Paul for answering Stu’s questions. It's a massive occasion so get to the Gate and get behind the team - this could be a really critical few games.


The Exiled Robin

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Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Inside Line: Leyton Orient (11/02/2014)

A more traditional ‘Inside Line’ returns following last week’s Lee Johnson interview, and I’m delighted to welcome Andy - @OrientMeatPie on Twitter – who gives us the insight into the season’s surprise package, Leyton Orient, ahead of our delayed trip to the East End.

Leyton Orient are the story of the season in League One...no, in English football in fact, this season.  What's the secret to the success you're having and how has it felt to be an Orient fan this last year?
Russell Slade puts it down to picking good players and keeping the squad together that has gradually gelled into an excellent unit over time. We have a good blend of youth and experience and it’s really paid off this season.  We’ve finished 7th twice in the last 3 seasons, so it we’d hoped to make it into the top half, although Orient have typically had a poor season following a good season the year before.

We’re normally slow starters too, so our remarkable first half of the season has left us all bewildered as much as anything, although it’s been brilliant to have been so dominant for the so long. However, we’re all realists and know that it may not last with a small squad and modest budget. Irrespective of how we finish, we’re proud of what has been achieved so far!

Can 2014 possibly match 2013's incredible success?
Possibly. Injuries and suspensions have caused a blip in our otherwise amazing form, but provided we can keep the squad together and avoid any more serious injuries (Jamie Jones, 3 months or Shaun Batt, out for the season) we may be OK. We have brought in good loans and signings o sustain a promotion push.

Fewer than five weeks have gone by since an entertaining draw at Ashton Gate, how has Orient's form been in the last few games, results have possibly been as shaky as at any time in the last 12 months, but you seem to have picked back up recently?
We had a wobble, mainly due to injuries and suspensions. Top scorer Mooney, injured and suspended, Vincelot injured v Wolves, Jones out for 3 months, Batt out for season, Omuzusi suspended etc. It’s been a tough time for most teams, but smaller squads suffer especially badly at Christmas/New Year.

Nevertheless our spirit is outstanding so we’ll pull together and push through it, which has been reflected in a brilliant January where we’ve managed to continue to get some outstanding wins (Crewe away 2-1, Carlisle home 4-0, Shrewsbury away 2-0, Coventry home, 2-0)

With transfer deadline day just having passed, which player(s) did you have locked in a room until the transfer window closed?
Moses Odubajo (our young winger who came through the youth team-number 11), Elliott Omuzusi, full back) and Romain Vincelot. All have been critical to our success this season.

And how was business for you? Did you add strength to the squad, and which (realistic) player would you have loved Orient to sign, perhaps the final piece in the jigsaw to seal promotion?
Russell Slade did a great job bringing in keeper Eldin Jakupovic who featured prominently in Orient’s unbeaten January run, but had to go back to Hull as their keeper was sent off and they needed back up.

Ex-Rangers and current Stoke midfielder Jamie Ness has extended his loan until the end of the season, while quick strikers Loza (from Norwich) and Shaq Coulthirst (from Spurs) have provided a spark off the bench and competition for places.

The best signing, however, was Chris Dagnall from Barnsley, who bagged two on his debut at Crewe. With the deadline day permanent signing of Marvin Bartley from Burnley and our deadline day signing of keeper Ben Alnwick from Charlton, we look in good shape for the games coming up.

Are you going to go up? If so, who with. If not, who'll pip you to the post?
Maybe. Three of us (Brentford, us and Wolves) are pulling away from the pack now and nobody is fading. I’d say play offs at worst. Wolves have an insane budget for this league and have just splashed out £750k for Leon Clarke. I’d expect us, Brentford or Preston to sneak into the other spot. MK Dons, Walsall and Rotherham to be around the play offs as well.

You recently wrote a really interesting post for the Two Unfortunates outlining the risks of having an owner dead set in providing you with your 'dream' move to the Olympic Stadium. Is it something you, and the majority of O's fans, want to happen or are there too many concerns?
There are concerns over multiple issues, such as suitability for the stadium and Barry Hearn’s intentions and the long term vision of the club. If we move, the likelihood is that we will end up in a similar position to Coventry within 10 years, without any control over where we play. The scary part is that like most football clubs, we are operating thanks to Barry Hearn’s goodwill to a large extent.

It would be great if you could point your readers that are interested to the blog I wrote and the Stand up for the Orient campaign on Facebook, here: 

Bearing in mind we’ve recently lost 3-1 at both of the other top sides, is that score-line you can see being repeated?
We’re on a good run at the moment. This may be the kiss of death, but yes, I’m going to say 3-1 to us!

Have a look at my Match Reports on http://www.leytonorientblog.com/ for our January performances!

No doubt Orient will once again provide City with a test, following their recent chastening experiences (to different levels) at Wolves and Brentford. At least once it’s over we know we don’t have to play any more of the top sides this season!!


The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 6 February 2014

Lee Johnson EXCLUSIVE: "I'd love to manage City"

As Oldham Athletic become the latest side to try and end Bristol City's remarkable unbeaten start to the season (in November!!!), here's a reminder of the exclusive interview I carried out with Latics boss Lee Johnson earlier in the year:

An extra-special 'Inside Line' feature this week as Lee Johnson, the manager of Saturday's opponents Oldham Athletic, speaks exclusively to The Exiled Robin.

Lee was a virtual ever present in the City side that settled and then got promoted from league one last time around, and then continued to play a significant role in helping us reach the play-off final at Wembley, coming so close to reaching the promised land of the Premier League.

However his time in BS3 wasn't always smooth. Accusations of favouritism from his manager - and Dad - Gary and the lack of the all-action throwing-himself-into-tackles displays that some fans see as essential led to Lee receiving a fair amount of stick and his name was an almost constant feature on the forums at the time, with plenty of support railing against the criticism.

He discusses this time with me and talks of the love he still has for the club, along with an insight into what he's trying to achieve at Oldham and explains how his Dad has helped - and been unable to help - with situations that have popped up in his short managerial career to date.

Nearly a year now into your managerial career, how are you finding it?
It’s got – it’s had – everything. It’s exciting, there’s carnage, there are ups and downs and you learn so much every week, literally everything that can come up has come up so far. Obviously being around my Dad for so many years I’ve seen and heard a lot but he’s never managed at Anfield and he’s never been involved in a spot-fixing incident – there’s no coaching manual available to help me through some of what I’ve had to deal with this year!

You’re obviously making a good impression though, Lee, as you were recently awarded a new contract?
That’s very nice!  I’m working very hard & I’m passionate about the club and the job and I’ve always loved football. I give my heart & soul and I’m delighted the club have seen that and allowed me to sign a three-and-a-half year deal.

Just going back a little, when you got the job it sounded from a report I read that you blew the Oldham chairman away at the interview? How did you approach that and what was it that impressed him so much?
It was just the preparation really. I hadn’t just turned up and said I fancy being a manager now my playing career is nearing an end. I’ve been preparing for six to seven years to get to this point.

People like Steve Lansdown have helped me out, I practiced making the presentation to him just for a bit of advice, as a friend and he gave me some good advice from a Chairman’s point of view.

Also I’ve met a lot of managers and become friendly with a few big names in the game so it’s all just helped my knowledge over the years. I’m a long way along with my coaching badges as well – it all just helped to prove I had the commitment and desire level to make a good manager.

What would you say the big differences between being a player and a manager are, Lee? Do you ever wish you could put your boots on and go and influence the match more directly?
Yes all the time, I miss playing so much! I’m a very competitive person and I certainly miss pulling the boots on and then coming off at the end having given everything with three points earned. Now other people have to do it for me, I live my life through them!

The highs are very very high and the lows are really low. Now the honeymoon period is over and it’s very much my team out there, it really hurts quite badly when you lose, but when you win it feels great, probably better than when I was playing.

At just 31 years old when you were appointed, you were the youngest manager in the football league. Does that make the job harder?
No, I don’t think so. Obviously some people can play on that and make it seem tougher.  But I’ve been around my Dad for a long time and seen a lot of the things that can go on and would go on and without that experience I think I would have found it very difficult, but having had that at first hand I’ve probably had a bit of a head start compared with other managers.

Talking of your Dad, Gary, do you utilise his experience and ask for advice? Are there any areas in particular you discuss?
Yes of course, we talk all the time, we bounce stuff off each other though, it’s not just one way, but he’s obviously seen a lot, done a lot and has been almost continuously employed for twenty-odd years so that’s certainly something I respect a lot. I know he’s a good manager and I just look to take the advice I get and use it as best I can – it’s great to have someone with so much experience available but I come up with my own thought process on all these things.

One of your first fixtures was against Gary’s Yeovil side. How was that experience?
It was strange because it was such a big game. We needed it desperately as we were trying to stay up whilst they needed it as they were still going for automatic promotion. It was a really strange scenario, if we had played each other earlier in the season we both might have enjoyed it a bit more.

It all worked out well in the end though with them going up via the play off final and us surviving in this division.

But it was probably worse for him than it was for me as I want to beat him at everything we do anyway, but I think his fatherly instinct is to want your children to do well and I did catch him going ‘oooh’ when we just missed a chance at one point so that maybe tells its own story!

You were recently name-checked by Brendan Rodgers as a lower league manager who likes playing football in ‘the right way’. Given your playing style which revolved around a passing game, is that a natural progression for you to make and the style you want to become known for as a manager? And can it succeed at this level?
Yes, I’ve no doubt it can. This level at the moment is a very very tough level . It’s not easy, I think it’s well documented we have one of the worst budgets in the league and I’m trying to build a specific methodology around the club, sticking to my principles, influenced by the way I played and the way I like the game to be played.

But sometimes – like the game at Swindon on Saturday – you have to play the conditions and that’s something else I learned off my Dad who is good at adapting certain things and getting the best out of players in certain situations. That’s been a big reason behind the success he’s had in his career which has been getting clubs to perform higher than they probably deserved to be.

A quick interjection into the football chat, what’s the explanation behind your twitter name (@LDJhepingping)
Ha ha, it came about when I was playing and the guy who was the smallest man in the world was called He Pingping so I thought I’d take the mick out of myself and make out I was the world’s smallest player.

How has this season panned out so far, Lee? Have you performed roughly as you expected?
What I’ve realised at a club like this is its very difficult when your best players are out. We’ve had two spells this season where we’ve had three of our best players missing for six or seven games and then it’s very hard to compete with the top teams with big budgets.

When we have got our best group out I think we’re a match for anyone in the top eight and results prove that this year. So that’s key for me, can we have that bit of luck to keep the key players fit?

In terms of the squad you had quite a busy transfer deadline day, picking up ex-City players James Wilson and Jon Stead amongst others. Firstly Wilson, I presume you’re hoping you can reignite his career a little and pull out some of the potential you saw when you played with him at Ashton Gate?
Yeah definitely, sometimes you have to realise what your market is and we have to be a bit of a home for the unloved and the unvalued of other clubs. I’ve obviously known James for a while and know his qualities and I just need to see if he’s got that bit of hunger in him. The way we’ve structured the deal it gives him a chance to prove himself first, but there’s no doubt he’s got the qualities and the attributes to be a good player.

It is difficult sometimes when you’ve been a youth team player at a club, you’re often seen as the baby and always as that youth team player however old you are. Whereas when you move club you’re then seen as a man, and that will be the challenge for him.

He played very well on Saturday at Swindon, helped us keep a clean sheet and was one of our better players, so we’ll be hoping he can maintain that sort of performance.

And in Jon Stead I’d think you’ve probably got one of the signings of the window at this level, someone who performed tremendously well for us in an ultimately losing cause the last few seasons – you must be delighted to have picked him up?
I am, I know Steady and I know what he’s about. We had to move a couple out to get a few in and I’m very pleased with my dealings.

In terms of Bristol City next weekend, who are looking out for as the main threats to neutralise?
Well they’ve got quality all over and threats coming from everywhere. They’re quite big at the moment. Marv’s obviously dangerous from set-pieces, you’ve got Flint and others. Then you’ve got the front two who are truly quality players at this level, but obviously they’ve got weaknesses and we have to try and get into those and take advantage.

Do you still follow City’s progress more closely than other teams?
Of course I do, I’ve got a massive love for the club, a lot of affiliation and a lot of friends around the place – and I still feel  a lot for the club – I’m desperate for them to do well and that’s the same for Yeovil and Kilmarnock.

You know what I’m like, I’m very passionate and give my all for the team do well –and keep in touch with people.  I had some really good years there and successful ones as well, so it’s always going to have a place in my heart.

Whilst at City you were part of the most successful side in a generation but you personally had some issues with some small sections of the fan-base. Did that affect you and how did you deal with it at the time?
I think at times it affected me, I think I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. I understood when I went there it was a big club, it wasn’t the fact I was overly comfortable at the level initially, so when we won it was all good but when we lost I was often the first one to get it in the neck. But I knew that would come when I signed, so I half expected it.

Generally though opinions in football don’t always reflect reality and if you look at the points per game ratio whilst I was at Bristol City I don’t think there would be too many better? And that goes to show – although I wasn’t the biggest tackler in the world I was brave in wanting the ball and trying to get things ticking over and, generally, when I played well the team played well and I helped us to be successful.

I was disappointed to leave Bristol City but it was at a time there was very much a changing of the guard.

So when you returned in November, did you get the sort of reaction you expected when you walked out from the dressing-room?
Yes I did, I got a lovely reaction. Generally I think 99% of people realised I loved the club, tried hard for the club and wanted them to be a success – which we generally were.

Maybe I was the type of player people realised they missed more once I’d gone.

And finally, if at some point in the future the chance came to manage City, would you be interested or would that be a job you’d never take, given your history?
No, why would I not want to take it? Firstly I’d like to say I’m really happy here at Oldham and I’d never bite the hand that feeds me and they’re a fantastic club and gave me my first chance, but we all know football’s crazy – at some point in my life there’s no doubt I’d love to manage Bristol City because I’ve got such strong feelings for the place, like I have now at Oldham and have for Yeovil and Kilmarnock too.

There are a lot of very friendly people there and I’d love to at one point be a part of more history.

My immense thanks to Lee for his time in an interesting and informative interview. I got the impression of an extremely hungry, determined and passionate young manager who is thorough and will leave no stone unturned in getting the maximum out of his squad, a trait his (for now) more famous father is certainly renowned for. If he could have even half the success that Gary has had, he’ll be doing pretty OK for himself.

For now, his job is to keep Oldham up and push them towards the top half of the table. In the future, who knows, we may well see a manager called Johnson once more prowling the touchline at a redeveloped Ashton Gate. 

The Exiled Robin

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Monday, 3 February 2014

The Inside Line: Coventry City (04/02/2014)

With the anticipation of building on Saturday’s victory versus Carlise, getting out of the bottom four, and correcting that result against Coventry last year Stu Radnedge welcomed back Joey Crone (from @NiiLampteyShow) who answered the following questions ahead of Tuesday night’s game versus the Sky Blues.

From the beginning of the season’s misfortune (-10 points and a transfer embargo), it would appear to many that the Sky Blues have achieved more than was expected/predicted of them. Is it all rosy at the club now on the field?
We have achieved, way, WAY above expectations this season. Steven Pressley is proving to be the best managerial appointment since... Well, Mark Robins who immediately preceded him, but in terms of the pre-Robins era (i.e. the rest of our history) he’s the best we’ve had in my lifetime. He’s implemented a very modern, high pressing system that his team of raw, talented youngsters has bought into fully. A number of our academy players have stepped up to unimaginable levels this season and young imports like Blair Adams and John Fleck are realising their early potential under the man they call ‘Elvis’. We’ve been very exciting to watch this season (see our 5-4 ding dong at the start of the season) which has meant scoring tonnes of goals and letting loads in at the other end but which is a far cry from the turgid, negative football on display under managers such as Boothroyd and Coleman. Leon Clarke’s departure last week will hit us hard but more of that below…

How much is Leon Clarke’s departure going to hit the club?
It will hit us hard. In such an inexperienced squad the Clarke’s guile has been vital. When we signed him a year ago we thought we were getting a basic thug who was ok at league one level.  He ended up being so much more than that. He linked play brilliantly, had a great touch and struck up a brilliant relationship with strike partner Callum Wilson; a player who, seemingly overnight turned from a bit part player destined the lower leagues to a lethal, pacey goal scorer. Clarke finished his Coventry career with 28 goals in 43 appearances, which makes him the 5th most prolific we’ve ever had. The vitriolic outcry against him as a result of his transfer request is probably the greatest single indicator of just how good he’s been for us.  

Off the field, the SiSu (Coventry owners) and Ricoh Arena fracas continues - will there be any end in sight? Can you provide any insight into the situation?
I wish I could. No end in sight, though the results of a Judicial Review into the alleged misuse of taxpayer funds to prop up Arena Coventry Limited in a few months time might hopefully see us make some progress but it’s been a season of false dawns on that front. Being taken out of our hometown is the worst thing about the situation but the split that it’s caused between fans comes a close second. As everyone struggles to make sense of an unnecessarily complex situation some have chosen to aggressively pursue their own agenda, be it Sixfields attendees baiting those who choose not to/aren’t able to go to games, or those that aren’t going accusing the attendees of being ‘scabs’. Even if we are brought back to the Ricoh tomorrow, for some the nonsense surrounding this season has been the straw that broke the camels back and I fear that it will take a number of years - or a great deal of success - to restore attendances to what they were.

On the bright side, a couple of loan signings have come in. And Delfouneso from Villa will be someone City fans should be worried about - if he slots in to the squad. Are the loan signings something you’re happy with?
Yeah that’s quite exciting, albeit not as exciting as if we’d have kept Clarke. Pressley has a good record of helping hungry young players achieve their potential and hopefully he can inspire Delfouneso and Swansea’s Ryan Donnelly to bang the goals in while they’re here.  More excitingly we’ve signed Dylan McGeough on loan from Celtic who I’m reliably informed is excellent. We’ve been crying out for some competition in wide areas and his arrival is a welcome one. I think people were hoping for a more experienced striker to come in – Luciano Becchio was strongly rumoured late on Friday – but getting bodies is was the priority and I think the loan window opens again shortly anyway. Despite our porous defence few have demanded defensive reinforcements which indicates how much fans have signed up to Pressley’s ‘Never say die, never do any defending’ style of football.

The last time the teams met, we played what has to be one of the most bizarre games of football ever (5-4). Will there be a repeat on the cards at Ashton Gate?
Haha. I still haven’t recovered from that game. After that game we beat Carlisle 4-0 away then drew 4-4 against Preston at Sixfields. It’s been that sort of season. We haven’t kept a clean sheet for ages but we pretty much always score. Looking at how many goals Baldock and Emmanuel-Thomas have got comparative to your league position I would guess that your problems are in defence so I expect another goal fest. Wilson is injured so expect to see the loan signings thrown straight in - our success will be largely dependent on how they do. That said, earlier in the season we signed Chris’ Dagnall and Maguire who scored one and two respectively in their first game for us. You have been warned…

Can I get a score prediction?
I’ll go 3-1 away win.  Three goals born of kamikaze defending and a Franck Moussa wonder strike.  The Coventry City 2013/14 set menu.

The Exiled Robin

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Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Inside Line: Carlisle United (01/02/2014)

Delighted to welcome back John McGee to the pages of The Exiled Robin, as he answered Stu Radnedge's questions on Carlisle United...

Ex-Bristol City "favourite" John Ward was responsible for one of the worst runs of results in Carlisle United's history and was replaced by Greg Abbott, who I believe at the start of this season was the third longest serving manager in the football league (behind Arsene Wenger and Paul Tisdale).
So why was the club’s start to this season so bad?
That's a good question, and one which isn't easy to answer. My own view is that Greg's management at Carlisle had become a bit stale. He took quite a while to get going; he was naive and made mistakes and that turned quite a few people off him who he had never quite won over, but it's inarguable that he turned us into a pretty good side.

His problem was being unable to build on finishing 8th.  His summer business in 2012 was absolutely disastrous and he never recovered from it - we're still harbouring Danny Cadamarteri and Mike Edwards on the payroll - and it's encumbered us from improving. Beyond that he failed to recognise that we needed defensive improvements in summer, he bought forwards and, yet again, we conceded in bucket loads. His departure was pretty inevitable the moment Orient beat us 5-1 on the opening day.

In September Abbott was replaced by another City "favourite" - your current gaffer Graham Kavanagh (beat us in a Wembley final in 2000 for those unaware…). What affect has he made? 
It's still a bit early to say. His immediate impact was great, we won three in a row for the first time in five years, but it's been up and down since then. My impression is that Kavanagh is an impatient perfectionist - he expects so much of his players and can get very frustrated when they don't meet his exacting standards. For some that's been the spur they needed, young Brad Potts has really kicked on for instance, while others seem to have struggled - Alex Salmon was tipped for great things but Kav's wasted no time in binning him off.

The feeling is that he's counting time to the summer when the real revolution will come, I can see us turning over as many as 10 players at that point. In the meantime we should have just about enough to survive - every now and then we see a performance which embodies Kavanagh the player and I'd venture there'll be enough of those between now and June to see us right.

A gap has opened up between our clubs after your victory against MK Dons on Tuesday night. A solid victory is suggested in the scoreline (3-0).  But was it? 
I wasn't at the game, but everything I've heard about it suggests so. We're a really frustrating side as when we get it right we can be really good, but we're very, very vulnerable if we don't score early.

The difference between the Colchester and MK games was probably scoring first - we had 19 shots against the Us and they had 6, we scored 2 and they 4. By all accounts MK were as dire as we were good, so that's a bit of a caveat, but it shows we're capable of downing half decent teams when we put our mind to it. Just wish it happened more regularly!

Before last week's match against Wolves, City were 5 undefeated, but have since lost two on the bounce with difficult away fixtures. Are your confidence levels ahead of the match on Saturday high, or do you fear the wounded animal element will be something to fear? 
I said before our last game that we were masters at doing struggling teams a favour - how right was I? You'll notice a theme developing - at the moment we just don't know which Carlisle will turn up. What I will say is that we're poorer away from home, and allow ourselves to get pressed onto the back foot there far too easily. I think a lot depends on whether our wingers have a good day, if they beat their man first time it's usually a good sign.

I can't not ask the question. Courtney Meppen-Walter signed for Carlisle in December after being released by Man City after being found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving. Do you agree with the decision to allow him to play for your club?
Speaking personally, yes I was fine with it, but it did split opinion almost right down the middle. One or two fans have boycotted the club - fair play to them, I think it's over the top but they know their own mind.

To clarify a little though, Meppen-Walter was guilty of the lesser offence of Death by Careless-Driving. That doesn't do down the gravity of what he did but it basically acknowledges that it wasn't entirely his fault, and that he wasn't wilfully out to endanger people. I think that's why I'm okay with it personally - it genuinely did seem like an awful mistake with grave consequences.

I've had the fortune, if you can call it that, of seeing the documentary which covers the case and Courtney comes over very well, utterly repentant and full of remorse. That's exactly how he's come over at the club too - modest, unassuming and shy if anything, quite the opposite of how you'd expect him to be. 

A few folk tried to justify the signing using his footballing potential (which is vast) but I found that crass - that isn't anything to do with it - he did something wrong, awful, but he's seen justice for it and is a young lad who deserves a second chance. My own morals don't really sit well with punitive justice. Others thought he shouldn't be allowed to be a footballer, I think the opposite - by remaining in the public eye he should be able to educate others, and he seems to think the same way, which is a good thing.

What are your strengths and weaknesses on the pitch?
Strengths - David Amoo if he has a good day. If he's on, he can be absolutely unplayable. Our midfield can also be outstanding if it gets a stranglehold on the game, but it doesn't always. At their best they work well for each other, perfectly coming and going and picking the right pass. As I stated earlier, Brad Potts is really coming on and starting to justify the hype around him. He scored his first goal on Tuesday and we hope it'll be the first of a few this season.

Weaknesses - confidence. If we go behind, we usually fold. We need to score early or we start sitting deep and hitting hopeful punts. We don't need to do that because we have really good footballers, but we're a team of panickers. We're a little more open without Paul Thirlwell too, and Meppen-Walter struggles with players running at him which  Thirlwell normally snuffs out.  The other problem? Scoring goals. Our three strikers have 3 in the league between them. Prolific!

Who can you forsee causing you problems on Saturday? 
Bearing in mind his hat trick in the reverse fixture and CMW's issues with players running from deep, it has to be JET. See you've signed Wade Elliott too. He's pretty handy!

Can I get a score prediction? 
Err, do you mind if I don't? I'm historically awful at them. 

Thanks to Stu and John for their time, and let's hope John's worries about helping teams on bad runs once again offers us a more profitable afternoon than we've enjoyed at the top sides recently.


The Exiled Robin

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