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Friday, 31 October 2014

The Inside Line: Bristol City v Oldham Athletic (01/11/2014)

Comparisons with Chelsea and Jose Mourinho, articles on his lucky pants and an obsessive search for magpies and brief links to jobs at a higher level.  It’s been an interesting week for Bristol City manager, Steve Cotterill.

And that’s all because it’s November and City are STILL unbeaten. Being nearly one-third of the way through the season and still to register a ‘L’ in the results column is a remarkable achievement.  Yet in the last couple of weeks – as Preston North End maintain their own outstanding winning run and close the gap – more and more questions have been raised about the conceding of soft goals, the carelessness of protecting leads, and dropped points in recent games.

Is this unfair criticism of a team who are taking all before them and remain, for now, in the highest possible position they can attain? Or is it justifiable concern of what might lie ahead, should these shortcoming not be addressed? 

Probably a bit of both. I have seen some people say this week it might be good to lose, to rid ourselves of this unbeaten tag and be able to concentrate on winning games, rather than not losing them again.  Poppycock. Absolute, pure, poppycock!  Apologies for my drift into 19th century old-English language there, but it felt appropriate. 

Losing can become a mind-set.  That feeling of defeat adding nervousness at the end of games as you know how deflating it can be – look at us this time last year when, despite a number of performances that deserved more, we couldn’t buy a win, and threw away many even positions late on due to the tension and apprehension.  Yes, this is a different set of players in the main, but that’s exactly why we shouldn’t want to lose.  To borrow a phrase from our gaffer, this is a team of winners right now, a team with such fighting spirit that they won’t lie down and won’t accept defeat.  We have no way of knowing how that first defeat might affect them, so let’s not wish it along any time soon.  I bet Arsenal fans weren’t hoping for a defeat at this stage of their unbeaten season…

Saying that, Lee Johnson’s Oldham Athletic arrive at Ashton Gate in fine form themselves, unbeaten in 13 and storming into the play-off picture – probably to the surprise of many, given their budgetary constraints. This is the first of a number of very tough challenges for Cotterill’s Robins in November, ahead of match ups with Swindon, Preston & Peterborough. It’s important we don’t dismiss Oldham in our anticipation for those perceived, ‘bigger’ matches.

Stu Radnedge caught up with Latics fan Joshua Bowker ahead of Saturday’s game to find out what’s going so right for ‘LJ’ and his band of merry men.

“After years and years of floating around the doldrums of the bottom third of League One, perennially flirting with the relegation zone, Oldham have finally had a positive start to the season. Headed by ex-Bristol City player, Lee Johnson (and his numerous comrades who have links to Ashton Gate) there is a real air of positivity around the club at this early stage of the season. Looking up the table, rather than down the table is an unusual situation to be in at this time of the season.

The Latics and City meet as arguably two of the most inform sides in the division, and both have certainly made themselves hard to beat, with Athletic having not lost in 11 league games. Expect goals though! Latics haven’t drawn a blank or kept a clean sheet in 6 games, and City’s run stretches to 7 games.

Johnson has brought in several players who he played alongside during his career, and some who have spent time at Bristol City, including James and Brian Wilson, George Elokobi and Liam Kelly. Kelly was brought in as a straight swap for Korey Smith in midfield, and was handed the armband on the way into Boundary Park. Kelly has been outstanding in the last month or so, after initially struggling, most likely due to a lack of match fitness. Johnson’s decision to change from a flat four in midfield to a diamond has brought out the best in the squad, with Kelly excelling at the base of the diamond.

The new formation has also allowed Jonathan Forte and loanee Jabo Ibehre to spearhead the attack. Forte has had a blistering start to his Oldham career, scoring 11 goals in just 12 starts. Put into context, he managed a mere 9 in 99 games for Scunthorpe, and Latics’ top league scorer last year finished with just 6! Johnson has truly found the best in him, and Ibehre has certainly proved to be the perfect foil for Forte. Despite being Colchester’s player of the season for the past two years, he fell out of favour this season and joined up with Latics. His strength and ability to bring others into play is a trait that Latics haven’t had since Matt Smith departed. Forte and Ibehre’s partnership, although in the extremely early days is already blossoming. The combination of Ibehre’s strength and Forte’s pace has yielded 4 goals in the last two games they’ve started together.

At the other end of the pitch, James Wilson has relished the opportunity of game time. Despite being in Bristol for 8 years, he only managed 21 starts. Despite joining in January, he’s surpassed that total, and been a virtual ever present, and just keeps getting better and better. He’s strong, athletic and a calm head at the back, he’s already been through 3 different centre-back partners this season, and hasn’t looked phased at all. His partner this weekend is likely to be Timothee Dieng – it has been for the previous 4 games, and has admirably held his own against difficult opponents such as Eoin Doyle and James Hanson in his first season in English football.

Johnson has always championed possession-based, attack-minded football. During the struggles last year, that philosophy went a little to the wayside. However it is back this season, with ‘keeper Paul Rachubka always looking to play out to his defenders – although the addition of Ibehre allows for a more direct option. Kelly anchors the midfield, and looks to start attacks from his own half by dropping in between the defence. Either side of the diamond in midfield are Carl Winchester and Mike Jones, who have been two of the most impressive performers this season. Their drive and energy from midfield was a factor missing from last season, and expect them to provide the attacking impetus from deep. Danny Philliskirk operates behind the front two, and Smith will almost certainly be tasked with nullifying his creative talents.

This feels like the strongest Oldham squad in a long time, and dreams of the playoffs which seemed distant back in August, feel more possible. After navigating difficult games such as Chesterfield, Peterborough and Bradford in recent weeks and remaining unbeaten, a successful result this weekend would really build hope. Latics’ away form this season reads one win, one loss and five draws. Backed on by a sold out Latics’ end, this should be a fantastic game between two confident teams, both hoping to maintain their unbeaten records.”

My thanks to Stu (who organised this from India!) and Joshua for this piece. It seems set to be an enthralling encounter between two good footballing sides fighting to preserve long unbeaten records.  I can see yet another 2-2 draw in the offing, but then I regularly waste money with the bookies so who knows!


The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 24 October 2014

Bookies Corner: Barnsley v Bristol City

I'm delighted to say that after a short break, Easyodds.com football tipster and Bristol City fan Ross Casey is back this week with a betting column on City’s trip to Oakwell to face Danny Wilson’s Barnsley. After the late slip-up preventing us of three points at Ashton Gate in midweek, can we take the win at Barnsley like we have in three of our last four visits?  Keep reading below for Ross’ full betting preview including his most pertinent trends and oddities…

BRISTOL CITY – 11/10 (Multiple)
BARNSLEY – 59/20 (MarathonBet)
DRAW – 13/5 (Multiple)

It doesn’t take a genius to see a trend in Bristol City’s matches that we score goals. In sixteen matches this term we have only failed to hit the net once and that was against Orient when Baldock’s goal was disallowed for no reason at all.

It is not just the fact we are scoring that is so pleasing – 14 of our 20 outfield players to play first team football this season have hit the net. The wide range of goal threats we have is brilliant for keeping opposition teams on their toes.

With all of these goals flying in it is of little surprise that there are some interesting betting trends regarding goals. If you live to bet on the over/under line you can pretty much guarantee a winning bet on a Bristol City fixture going over 2.5 goals – in eight of our last nine matches three or more goals have been scored! Over 2.5 is available at 3/4.

I find the first goal brackets interesting in our matches too – four of our last six fixtures have had an opening goal scored in the opening 10 minutes. The bookies haven’t seemed to latch on to this trend as yet as the best price available is a tempting 16/5.

Unfortunately we have lost the ability to keep clean sheets in our most recent matches. After a run of three shut-outs in a row stopping at Port Vale we have now conceded at least one goal in each of our last seven matches. Both teams to score is the option here at 13/20. If you were to choose between this and over 2.5 goals I would go with overs as that has slightly better profit margins.

An interesting statistic about Danny Wilson’s Barnsley this season is that they are do or die at home. In eight matches on home soil they are yet to draw a match. Considering we have drawn just one of our last 10 fixtures at Oakwell it is perhaps unsurprising that the draw is the least likely outcome in the full-time result market at 13/5.

Encouragingly for Steve Cotterill is the really embarrassing statistic that Barnsley have conceded a huge 12 goals in their last four at Oakwell. For a defence featuring Lewin Nyatanga I find this hard to believe! With this in mind take your pick from the starting line-up on Saturday and back some Robins players to hit the back of the net. Easyodds.com offers all of our stars from Aaron Wilbraham at 6/4 all the way down to Derrick Williams at 12/1.

Speaking of former players, I love backing ex –players to score as they seem to have that extra spring in their step when playing former clubs. Look at the proof of Leroy Lita’s hat-trick for Middlesbrough at Ashton Gate for proof of that!

He is 11/5 to score against us again and Lewin Nyatanga is 20/1. The way we defended set plays on Tuesday night may well prove that to be a whacky but wonderful wager! Andy Cole’s son Devante is on-loan at Barnsley from Manchester City and has impressed with his pace and willing running so far. He will give Aden Flint all sorts of problems if he plays on the shoulder of our line. He has scored 5 in 13 this season and has scored in his last two matches – his best price to score against our defence is 13/5.

We are pretty successful against Barnsley in terms of our win/loss record. We have 41 wins to their 30 but the last time these sides met at Oakwell we lost 1-0 to a Tykes side that had 10 men for the last 40 minutes. Oh how I don’t miss those Championship years of depressing losses after hard fought draws!

I genuinely do think that Devante Cole has a bright future ahead of him and using our price comparison service I have found some good value on him scoring two or more goals in this match. With back-to-back goals for the young forward and our no clean sheet in seven, he looks a good bet at 16/1 to score two or more. Most bookies are around 9/1 on this bet but Bet365 are offering almost double that at 16/1.

First Goal Between 1-10 Minutes @ 16/5 – BET NOW

I like this trend that I have sniffed out and whilst it may be over within 11 minutes I think the bookies have underestimated how keen Barnsley are to concede and us Robins to score! 4 in 6 is a decent trend plus Joe Bryan missed out JUST with his 11th minute strike at Walsall. Here’s hoping for another quick start!

*All prices supplied by www.easyodds.com and prices all correct as of Fri 24th October 2014*

The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Inside Line: Barnsley v Bristol City (25/10/2014)

“If you wanna be the best, if you wanna beat the best, oh-oh dedication’s what you need”

The Bristol City class of 2014-15 wrote their own piece of history on Tuesday night when their draw against Bradford meant that a club record that had lasted exactly sixty years had been broken, and we had gone 14 matches unbeaten from the start of a season.  To put that in context, it’s nearly one-third of the way through the season – a quite remarkable achievement which glossed over some of the disappointment in ‘only’ gaining a point on a windy night in BS3.

The record-breakers take their status on the road again this weekend to Oakwell, home of Barnsley, who have the son of an ex-City striking legend and an ex-City manager looking to put one over on the Robins.

Stu Radnedge spoke to Andy White  of the ‘Love Barnsley, Hate Football’ blog to find out more:

“My beloved Barnsley FC. Relegated last season, currently hovering above another relegation zone and shipping goals for fun - I shouldn't really be enjoying all this. But I am. Obviously, the losing games bit and conceding goals part I don't take much pleasure from, but I genuinely am enjoying season 2014-15. 

You see, it's been an absolute chore for large parts of the last eight years in the Championship. Most seasons merging into each other, such was the similarity of events. Lose your star players on the cheap, good form goes out the (January) window with them, recruit short term loanees, limp to safety by a few points. Repeat over the next 12 months and so on. Not to forget the changing of managers or indeed, the odd FA Cup run. It wasn't all bad. Just 90% of it. Probably. 

After the almost Roy of the Rovers style 'Great Escape' of 2012-13, masterminded by cliché ridden young manager David Flitcroft, we went into last term with rare optimism. We assumed we'd stumbled upon a good manager at last. Ok, he talked a lot of nonsense, but his record since taking charge was phenomenal. Perhaps we'd finally push on in the second tier and reclaim our status as something better than perennial relegation battlers? 

Perhaps not. I think we won just one of our first 18 games and the team didn't resemble anything like the one 'Flicker' guided to safety just a few months before. He was sacked, and after a month of deliberation we got the second coming of club legend, one Danny Wilson. The original miracle worker. If anybody could transform our fortunes it was 'r Danny'.... 

He did improve us. But hardly. His January loan and free transfer recruits were on paper exciting, a touch risky but gambling had to be done. Unfortunately, we backed the wrong horses. In fact, a horse would have made a better impact than the likes of Brek Shea, Martin Woods and Emmanuel Frimpong.

But, I welcomed the eventual relegation. We could hopefully get shot of the deadwood letting us down, allow Danny to assemble his own squad and look forward to finally competing in a division which is less about how much money you've got and more about team spirit. And if any Barnsley manager has ever cobbled together a squad brimming with enthusiasm and pride in the red shirt, it's 'r Danny'.

Unfortunately, getting shot of the deadwood might have been easy, but we soon realised that a few of our best players would have to be flogged too. And it took so long to get both Luke Steele and Chris O'Grady off the wage bill that our own recruitment drive didn't really kick into gear until a week or so before the big kick off. Our pre-season 'tour' of Italy comprised of about 18 academy lads. We just didn't have the players. 

And so it's no surprise what has happened so far this season. We're up and down like a yo-yo. No consistency. Fair to middling.

We've definitely signed a few promising young players though. Conor Hourihane is some player. Scored seven goals, created another seven and involved in all the rest. Probably. Luke Berry, signed from Cambridge, a little midfield dynamo, he's impressed me. And despite the goals not quite arriving for him, Sam Winnall has been a great addition up front. 

The revelation though at present, is his strike partner, the son of Andy - Devante Cole. On loan from Manchester City and far too good for this division. He's very green, very raw, but has explosive pace and an eye for goal. His father is at every game, home and away, and so keep your eyes out (Robins fans travelling up on Saturday) for your former hero.

Andy Cole (here wearing the now-famous #PurpleandLime) struck up a 
fantastic, exciting partnership with cult hero 'Jacki' Dziekanowski (below) in 
the early 90's before moving to Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United

As I say, we're inconsistent. So I couldn't begin to tell you what to look out for or our strengths and weaknesses. But in a nutshell, we're a threat going forward and wide open defensively. 

I have Bristol City down to win the title, and so far it's looking likely. It seems Mr Lansdown has spent a few pennies again. But it's nailed on that Leroy Lita will finally get off his lazy backside and come back to haunt his former side. Isn't it? Probably. 

Danny Wilson got City to the play-off final in Cardiff in 2004, but famously 
left Leroy Lita out and we lost 1-0 to a Leon Knight goal, for Brighton

Unless you beat us comfortably. Like everybody else at Oakwell. Probably.”

My thanks to Andy and to Stu for setting up the response.

Slightly ironic that we face a team managed by Danny Wilson who might have Leroy Lita to call on, given events in Cardiff http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_div_2/3750777.stm a decade ago!

Here’s to 15. COYR!

The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 17 October 2014

The Inside Line: Coventry City v Bristol City (18/10/2014)

As nearly 4,000 Robins' fans get set to descend on the Midlands this weekend, City approach this game still clear at the top of the table and scoring goals for fun. It's a good job too, as the defence, which looked stronger in the first few games than last season, is suddenly looking porous again and the loss of Korey Smith for this match up probably won't help matters.

Ahead of the tale of two cities, Stu Radnedge caught up with Joey from the excellent Nii Lamptey Show to give us this fabulous insight into the weird & wonderful recent tales of the Sky Blues.

"It seems there’s never a dull moment in the life of a Coventry City Wasps RFC fan!

The last time I wrote would have been on the eve of our 5-4 slugfest victory when we were exiled in Sixfields. This was a period of the season notable for both it’s swashbuckling and cavalier (football parlance for conceding loads of goals but somehow still winning) approach on the field and the uneasy feeling of going to watch a club playing outside of it’s home city.

The former, albeit glorious for the brief couple of months it lasted was still tainted by the latter. Thousands of Cov fans were boycotting games in protest at the move, thousands were unable to go because of the extra distance and the fact that many games were moved to Sunday and some lost interest altogether; feeling that the club they grew up with was no longer the one playing in a town 35 miles away.

As the season went on and performances dropped off we were left with a feeling flatter even than that which we’re used to around March time. Fans spent the season squaring up to each other, armed with keyboards, heaping opprobrium on their fellow fan for either going to watch the team they both support play football or not going to watch the team they both support play football.

The entire thing would have been very undignified had the word not been reclaimed and amplified beyond recognition by the club’s owners and Coventry City Council.  These two warring factions chose to spend the season pursuing a remarkably transparent game of tit-for-tat.  Both trying to financially distress the other with nothing but self interest in mind.

Ultimately it was the fans who lost out. When the two sides finally came to an agreement that allowed the club to play in a stadium that was built for the club to play in there was an outpouring of joy amongst Cov fans but also a disappointment that something that in the end seemed so simple to resolve couldn’t have been done a year earlier.

That’s where this messy tale should end.  We made it home, 27,000 saw us win our first game back; job done.

No. As usual there was more to come. We learned a few weeks later that half of the ground had been sold to Wasps Rugby Club. Quite why this admittedly peripatetic team should want to move permanently to a city whose residents are still smarting at the recent removal of their own major sports team is beyond me. Noises have been made along the lines that it was either move to Coventry or cease to exist but I’ve spoken to plenty of Wasps fans who consider the move to be tantamount to them not existing anyway. Initial talks seem to have been positive but there’s an uneasy air of uncertainty hanging over the club again.

Most of us thought that moving back into the Ricoh on a rental deal might pave the way to talks about buying the place but the owners of the football club are again talking about building ‘Fantasia Park’ (as some wags have dubbed it), a roughly 15,000 seat stadium ‘In the Coventry Area’.

This isn’t a popular idea amongst Cov fans.  If there’s one thing that unites us it’s the desire to make the Ricoh our home.  It’s a soulless bowl that’s too big for us but it’s also a symbol of hope, a roadside monolith that might one day house a football team playing at a level, in front of the number of fans that it deserves.  It’s an empty cabinet waiting for it’s first trophy.  It might seem unnecessary now but it’s indicative of ambition and if you can’t dare to dream as a football fan then what’s the point?  Our unified desire to play at the Ricoh is testament to something that all football fans will identify with. The feeling that there’s ‘always next season’. That you’re only a decent manager or a 20-goal-a-season striker away from that title challenge or cup run. Even at a time when supporter apathy is at an all time high there’s still that impotent hope that something good is just around the corner but as they say, ‘it’s the hope that kills you...'

With all of this it’s sometimes difficult to remember that you do this because you like to watch football matches.  It’s been a mixed season on the field so far.  Any early season optimism has been dashed by a run of five league games without a win.  We threw away a 2-0 lead before half time at home to draw against an awful Crawley side and our recent 2-1 defeat at bottom club Crewe was desperately poor.  We had won three in a row when our captain and summer signing Reda Johnson lost his head into the head of an opponent and got sent off against Scunthorpe in a game we were leading 1-0.  We lost that game in the end and have looked worse since his suspension.  Hopefully he will be available again for our game on Saturday as he looks like one of the few players we have that is capable of playing at a higher level.

Our manager is Steven Pressley, a loveable Scot who flips from sartorial sophistication to tracksuit clad bawler in the blink of an eye. He’s recently been given a four year contract but his popularity is on the wane amongst some Cov fans who are desperate for their new manager fix after nearly 18 months with the same one in charge.

He has favoured a 3-5-2 system so far this season which has prompted much debate.  Many will point to this as the reason for our recent ill fortune on the pitch but it’s probably fairer to say that our total lack of physical presence, cutting edge or clinical finishing would be detrimental to any system.

On the plus side, fans of running about a lot have been impressed with industriously inefficient workhorse Jim O’Brien; a player who is widely regarded as having played well for us despite no one being able to remember what he’s actually done.

The team is full of young, local lads and Ryan Haynes and Aaron Philips have looked good out wide albeit in patches and in the JPT game against Exeter we finished the game with nine academy products on the pitch.  The team revolves around John Fleck in midfield.  He’s a gifted footballer capable of unlocking defences with ease but has gone missing too often this season.  A lot of how well we do depends on whether he turns up or not.

On the way out of the Crewe game I heard many Cov fans remark that it would be ‘typical’ for us to beat Bristol City having just lost to Crewe.

It wouldn’t. We don’t really beat anybody. I’m predicting a 2-0 defeat for us on Saturday but there’s always hope eh?"

A negative and somewhat despondent view which we all hope transforms into reality!

I will add that I am not in the minority in being delighted that Coventry are back playing in their own city - albeit still seemingly with problems - something all fans need as the most basic requirement for their support.

My thanks to all involved in this piece, a truly fascinating story!


The Exiled Robin

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Inside Line: Bristol City v Chesterfield

After clinching the Sky Bet League Two title on the final day of last season, many felt optimistic that the team could step up to the demands of performing in a higher division. So far, every single member of the Chesterfield squad has acquitted themselves well enough to reassure supporters that they can handle this particular task. 

However, in any walk of life you’ll undoubtedly encounter the odd pessimist and it’s no different at the Proact Stadium. During the Summer, there were huge calls for a new striker and more importantly, a proven goalscorer whose goals would fire the Spireites to a new level. 

Now, that’s all changed as Eoin Doyle has come alive in the knowledge of being the first-choice forward at the club following the departure of Marc Richards to Northampton Town. 

Nobody can complain with the more than impressive return of 12 league goals from just ten appearances. To be perfectly honest, without the Irishman’s ability in front of goal Chesterfield would without doubt be languishing in the bottom half of the table. Instead, occupying sixth place is extremely pleasing for any Spireite. 

During the last campaign, a reliance on goals from midfield was evident whereas now it’s the complete opposite, with Gary Roberts on just two goals for the season so far. 

The results in the recent past have dipped slightly, with a 3-2 loss at Doncaster Rovers and a 1-1 draw at home to Notts County acting as a blemish on this year's record. But, the levels of performance have been consistent with many pointing the blame simply at lady luck.

Also, a defensive rearrangement has took place due to the knee injury sustained by Sam Hird which ultimately led to the loan acquisition of Georg Margreitter from Wolverhampton Wanderers. 

Following a nervy start to his three-month loan spell, the Austrian finally looks comfortable in a blue shirt and the partnership with club captain Ian Evatt is blossoming. Even though the squad is small in numbers, it certainly doesn’t lack quality. 

Tommy Lee is an absolute rock between the sticks, although potentially suspended for Saturday’s game at Ashton Gate pending an appeal.

According to reports, Aaron Chapman has impressed greatly on loan at Accrington Stanley so we're still unsure whether or not a recall will take place. 

Daniel Jones is an added threat from the left-back position, producing quality deliveries into the danger area on a regular basis. Consistently brilliant, Sam Morsy is undoubtedly the most able midfield player I've ever seen in a Chesterfield shirt. 

Strong in the tackle, comfortable on the ball and can contribute with the odd goal or two when given the freedom to advance further into the opposition half. 

Spireites boss Paul Cook has already stated that he'll be taking his side to Ashton Gate in search of three points, especially with the large amount of travelling fans from Derbyshire. 

Depending on your own viewpoint, this could be seen as both a positive or a negative. Some might say that it's totally unreasonable to go all out for the win against arguably the best team in the division, but this particular approach has served us well in the past.

Both Tendayi Darikwa and Jones offer pace and precision down each flank, whilst Gary Roberts has the freedom to cause havoc as an influential member of the midfield trio behind the striker. Armand Gnanduillet serves as an unknown quantity for any opponent, with doubt present in a defender's mind once the tall striker enters the field of play. 

In certain situations, altering your style of play can seriously backfire. Areas of vulnerability revolve around the attacking approach, with the two central defenders occasionally left exposed due to a lack of cover on either side.

Despite this, I'm genuinely pleased that we have a forward-thinking manager who wants his team to play football in the correct manner. 

There genuinely hasn’t been one occasion where I’ve left a stadium this season and felt that Chesterfield haven’t matched or even bettered their opponents, with credit going to Cook for the brave decision of continuing his attractive and attacking style of play in a higher division. 

Obviously, the main aim for any promoted team has to be avoiding relegation although a positive start has understandably raised expectations amongst supporters. If the Spireites can continue in this way, then the sky really is the limit.

In terms of the final result on Saturday, I fully understand that it's going to be an extremely tough task taking on a Bristol City side who are currently unbeaten in the league. My view is that any point away from home is acceptable, even more so against the league leaders.

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Inside Line: Cheltenham Town v Bristol City (08/10/2014)

Wednesday night marks not only another step in City's remarkable season, but the return to the scene of his greatest triumphs for manager Steve Cotterill.  As explained by Cheltenham fan and Gloucestershire Echo sports reporter Mark Halliwell below, a heroes welcome is likely from both sets of fans for the West-country-man who is fast burnishing a similar reputation just down the M5 as he did more than a decade ago at Whaddon Road.

It's a great, informative read so I won't rattle on any longer - my thanks to Mark for the response and to Stu Radnedge for prompting the answers.

"When former managers and players go back to their former clubs, they will usually expect a hostile reception. But not this time. When Steve Cotterill comes back to Cheltenham Town on Wednesday, the Whaddon Road crowd will be welcoming back a hero - one of their own who took the club to places they could only have dreamed about when he took over.

To understand this, you have to go back to January 1997, when Cheltenham Town were struggling to get out of the Southern League Premier Division.  They had been there since 1992, after relegation from the Conference, and had incurred several seasons of finishing in second or third places - not good enough in these days of only one promotion place.

Chris Robinson’s reign as manager ended and the directors gave the job to Cotterill, then a 33-year-old with some experience and success in Ireland with Sligo Rovers.  His first game, on January 25, 1997, was a 1-0 defeat at Sittingbourne - his last, just five years later on May 6, 2002, was a 3-1 League Two play-off final win over Rushden and Diamonds at the Millennium Stadium, and took us into what is now League One for the first time.

His reign transformed the club. It took us to places which the vast majority of Cheltenham Town fans never thought we would ever reach.  Even in 1997, the Football League was a pipedream for a club which had been in the Southern League since 1932 bar a few years in the Conference in the late 80s and early 90s.  Success was getting to the first round of the FA Cup, or even a four-figure crowd, and having to beat Gloucester City every season - but Steve, along with chairman Paul Baker, changed that outlook.

I have known him since he was a teenager, scoring goals in local football, then playing in our youth and reserve teams, in between knee injuries which kept him sidelined for months on end and eventually finished his playing career at the age of 26.  It was ironic that the physio who nursed him back from injury at Bournemouth and the man who, in an innocuous block-tackle in a five-a-side game, caused the injury to re-occur and ended his career was none other than the man whose place he took at Ashton Gate - Sean O’Driscoll!

He put his heart and soul into Cheltenham because it was his club. He put his hometown club on the map and transformed it from top to bottom. There was no doubt who was running the club - and in some ways when he comes back he still does!

After winning promotion to the Conference after four months in charge, made even sweeter as Gloucester City were edged out. We actually finished second but went up as Gresley Rovers’ ground was not suitable for the higher level.  We then took the Conference by storm, finishing second to Halifax and taking 18,000 fans to Wembley to win the FA Trophy final, with former Bristol City player, Jason Eaton’s goal against Southport.

Before the following season, 1998-99, he sat the players down on the first day of training and told them they were going to win the Conference. On April 22, 1999 a 97th minute goal from Michael Duff (or Jamie Victory, no one really knows for sure which one scored it) sealed a 3-2 win over Yeovil and that place in the Football League. Dreamland!

Cotterill had delivered the impossible, and it didn’t stop there as he took us up another level before the inevitable happened, and he moved on to bigger things, with a 46 per cent win record at Whaddon Road.

He went to Stoke, and then Sunderland in an ill-fated and (even he would admit) ill-judged move as Howard Wilkinson’s assistant, before roles at Burnley, Notts County, Portsmouth, Nottingham Forest and now City.

You have got a good one there City fans - and all Cheltenham fans will share your delight at how the season has started for you and will hope that our Messiah can keep it going….except for Wednesday maybe, as we would like to win this one, but even if you change your squad around it will be an uphill battle for us.

Our current manager Mark Yates was a Cotterill signing as a player, and, like all of his former Cheltenham players, still calls him Gaffer to this day - more evidence it were needed of the respect he is held in by them.  Yates took over in December 2009 after Martin Allen’s disastrous reign finally ended and after stabilising the club has not been able so far to match Cotterill’s achievements, and that of another ex-City boss, John Ward, after him, in getting us out of League Two.

After two play-off campaigns, one losing final against Crewe and one losing semi-final against Northampton, last season was disappointingly mediocre, and he has tried to re-build the squad in the summer.

Expectations among the fan-base were low for this season after the struggles of the last campaign, but the results in August, four wins and a draw, suggested that things might actually be better than we thought.  But since then, the next six league games have brought no wins and only two goals - and despite sitting in 10th place, only bottom-of-the-table Hartlepool have scored less goals than us this season.

Our leading scorer, on four goals, is Koby Arthur, a loanee from Birmingham who has now gone back to St Andrew’s, and last season’s leading scorer, 15-goal Byron Harrison, has scored only once this time around.  Loanee John Marquis is yet to score a League goal, but did net against Oxford in the last JPT round, while Terry Gornell has now gone nearly a year without a goal.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out where our problems are!

At the other end, we have been solid. Only eight goals let in this season represents a massive improvement defensively and is one of the best records in the division so far.  The switch to a three at the back system, usually made up of new skipper Matt Taylor, Troy Brown and former Gashead Steve Elliott, has paid dividends on that front, along with the arrival of goalkeeper Trevor Carson in the summer.

However, Yates has not been able to find a way of keeping that solidity defensively and also getting some more potency further forward.  The chances are being created, but not being taken on a consistent basis, and that is the conundrum which Yates has at present.

City are the favourites for the Trophy - they have to be with their current form and League position, and it would be a massive scalp for us to take.  With our conquering hero coming back in the opposition dugout, it would be nice for everything to click for us on Wednesday, and would give us a massive fillip for the league campaign."

The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Inside Line: Walsall v Bristol City (04/10/2014)

Things just keep getting better, don’t they? A good win against a strong MK Dons side strengthened City’s position at the top of the table and meant we scored three goals for the fourth consecutive match – a quite amazing run of scoring prowess.  What odds a 0-0 draw this weekend?!

The promotion charge is well and truly on now and the support City will get in the West Midlands this weekend marks the first true sign that the fans are genuinely starting to believe.  More than 1,800 will head up the M5 on Saturday morning and try to avoid the obtuse provocation of the infamous West Midlands constabulary.

The Saddlers are a team on the up though after a poor start to the season and will represent a tough challenge, with ex-City no.2 Richard O’Kelly seemingly working well with young boss Dean Smith to mould a slick, passing side with long-term goals very much to the fore.

So what lies ahead of us? Can Walsall be the first side to take maximum points from the unbeaten league leaders this weekend?  Stu Radnedge spoke to Bescot Banter columnist Scott Brotherton (who you can follow on Twitter, here: www.twitter.com/@ScottBrothertn) to find out more…

"Well, where to start with Walsall? 

I suppose with the fact that things been far from perfect at the Banks's Stadium so far!  It took until the seventh league game for Dean Smith's men merely to register a win, albeit a convincing one, against an underwhelming Preston side.

Things have begun to look slightly more promising after that home victory, culminating in an impressive 3-0 triumph over Doncaster last Saturday.  As a fan you never want to have the league leaders on the horizon. But after two home wins, including six goals, the Saddlers are beginning to build some momentum. It's as good a time as ever for them to face the Robins.

Barring any injuries, I would expect an unchanged team from the win over Doncaster. James Baxendale really took his chance out on the wing, scoring the opener, and young Reece Flanagan also played well alongside captain Adam Chambers in the middle of the park.  The manager may opt to draft in Mal Benning (wing) or Billy Clifford (centre-midfield) but these are likely to be the only changes if indeed there are any.

It was a difficult summer for Walsall's frontline. They lost their top scorer Craig Westcarr, as well as influential wingers Febian Brandy and Milan Lalkovic. But the inspired signing of striker Tom Bradshaw has been the perfect antidote.  Bradshaw has netted five times in eight league starts and is undoubtedly the danger-man as far as City are concerned. The former Shrewsbury man is an instinctive finisher, with the majority of his goals coming from first-touches inside the area.  It is not just the goals but his effort for the team that sets Bradshaw apart from the crowd. The 22-year-old's energy and work rate are first-class. He constantly puts the opposition's back four under pressure and has the engine to keep running all game. Only this week, Dean Smith described him as a 'manager's dream' and Bristol City will need to keep tabs on the busy striker.

The defence has been Walsall's other major plus point. In 2013/14 they conceded just 49 goals, 18 fewer than the Robins, with only their lack of goals at the other end preventing a play-off push.  The solid defence has continued where it left off this season, especially since the resigning of last year's club captain Andy Butler. The no-nonsense centre-back has had a turbulent time at Sheffield United after joining them in the summer, so the Saddlers have him back on loan for a month.

This means that, aside from new right-back Jim O'Connor, they are back to the defence that was so impressive last season. It seems to be working - Walsall have only conceded ten in ten games and that includes a 4-0 blip at Rochdale.

Injuries are no longer such a big issue but the Saddlers are still without midfielder Sam Mantom. The 2013/14 Player of the Season has been out since July with knee ligament damage. Youngsters Flanagan and Clifford have done well in his absence, but Mantom's passing range and shooting ability make him a key player and he has been missed.

Bristol City may have double the number of Walsall's points at this early stage, but it might surprise you that I would fancy the Saddlers to win regardless of form or injuries. The reason is that they always show a certain spark when playing against the top teams. You should never take them lightly.

They have the capacity to, and regularly have, caused upsets in League One that you wouldn't really have thought possible. Take last year. Wolves tore through the league and became Champions with 103 points, but somehow lost 1-0 at the Molineux to Walsall. Peterborough were also stunned by the Saddlers last season as they were well beaten 2-0.

It goes back quite a while. I can remember when they held on for an unbelievable 1-0 win over Southampton the year they were promoted. The Saints team included Lallana, Lambert and Oxlade-Chamberlain so that victory was something of a miracle!

In terms of style of play, you should expect Walsall to stick to their passing game. The club's football philosophy hasn't altered with Dean Smith in charge - he is working on a long term project. The plan seems to have stalled a bit of late but the boss will still keep faith in his way of playing.

Youth development is another big part of Walsall FC. Working on a shoestring budget, the Saddlers rely on their academy and youngsters released from the bigger Midlands clubs. The side that beat Doncaster contained six players under the age of 23, including all of the front four.

The Robins definitely come as worthy favourites on Saturday and should be expected to win. I think they will dominate Walsall but it should be tough to breach a well-organised defence.  A repeat of City's thrilling 3-2 win at MK Dons is unlikely - this should be a low scoring game. However, if there is an early goal for the Steve Cotterill's men it will be hard for the Saddlers to respond."

My sincere thanks to Scott, Bescot Banter & Stu for an excellent preview of what should be another excellent match.


The Exiled Robin

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