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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Inside Line: Peterborough United v Bristol City (28/11/2014)

Two defeats in two, albeit both with excuses or reasons of sorts, have dented City’s lead at the top and you’ve got to think a win at London Road in front of the Sky TV cameras is necessary to keep us there with Swindon and Preston breathing down our necks.  It's the least they could do on my birthday, after all!!

That won’t be an easy task though. Peterborough remain one of the favourites for promotion, despite a patchy start that has led to some unrest amongst fans and the now much-anticipated post-match Twitter tirade from outspoken owner Darragh MacAnthony.

Stu Radnedge caught up with friend of the blog, Jamie Jones – one time host of Posh podcast ‘Standing on the Glebe’, which sadly hung up its headphones in the summer and for the music buffs amongst you now hosts an intriguing looking blog (and published book!) named I Blame Morrissey! http://iblamemorrissey.wordpress.com/

Big thanks to Jamie for this detailed overview of the situation.

"The Posh – They score goals for fun, right? They attack first and worry about defending later, right? Not anymore they don’t.

These are strange, unusual times at London Road. After the thrills and spills, goals, promotions and relegations that lit up the last MacAnthony/Fergie era, we have become boring, turgid even. Despite a cracking start to last season we relied on Britt Assombalonga’s goals to keep us in the play-off pack and without him we’ve looked utterly lost. For almost 12 months now we have been crying out for some creativity and invention in the middle of the park but all we get served is cloggers like Michael Bostwick. The Stevenage chairman must light a cigar and chuckle every time he recalls us paying £ for him.

At the back, we are worse than ever though that’s not been helped by the loss of the Jack Baldwin for what appears to be a long lay-off. We don’t have a stead central defensive partnership or system and if he goes with the two rookies, Santos and Burgess, I dread to think about the damage that Agard could do on his return to London Road. 

The one position we have recruited strongly to is right back where we lost Mark Little to you lot and snapped up Michael Smith from The Gas for £150,000. I was always a big fan of Little’s rampaging runs, where he didn’t seem to be in control of his own feet and no Posh fan will ever forget his comedy fall in the box which earned us a tie saving penalty in the play-off first leg at The Franchise in 2011. Smith is a solid and dependable alternative to Litts wanderings.

Marcus Maddison has come in from Gateshead and looked a star in the making before his injury robbed us of his creativity. He is unlikely to be fit for Friday night. Certainly missing due to injury will be our other flying winger, Jon Taylor who has become a firm fans favourite since his move from Shrewsbury in the summer. We simply don’t have the talent to replace them and Fergie may once again utilise the step over show pony that is Mendez-Laing against City.

The one real positive at the moment is the clubs young players but unfortunately they are being let down by the senior pro’s and the managements tactics. Joe Newell is starting to show the London Road crowd why Darragh and Fergie have always rated him so highly and Kgosi Nthle, Jermaine Anderson and Conor Washington have all get bright futures in the game. Jack Payne, our captain, is still only young and should be leading these starlets into the brave new world. Instead he looks like a player that has lost confidence in his own game let alone having the nous and experience to inspire those around him.

The club have done brilliantly in the Darragh MacAnthony era to find strikers that were in the non-league (Mackail-Smith), lower leagues (Gayle) or not playing for their club (Assombalonga) and turning them into superstars who could then be sold on for huge profits. It appears that for now, that recruitment gold-mine has delivered some fool’s gold and the big money that Darragh splurged on Luke James from Hartlepool currently looks like being as ill-conceived as the £1m we spent on Tyrone Barnett a couple of years ago. Aaron McLean coming back to the club where he made his name is designed to give everyone a lift and we have to hope that will be the case. The thing that you can always rely on with Aaron is that he won’t shirk a physical battle or give defenders an easy 90 minutes.

In terms of formation we have tried 3-5-2 and the diamond this year with variable results. Fergie now appears to have settled on the formation that all managers turn to in a time of crisis – the lumpy, cold gruel of a 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders in the centre of midfield.

Personally, I have always been a Fergie fan. Working with Darragh he has, over the course of his two spells, delivered us real success, the likes of which PUFC had only tasted a couple of times previously in our history. But, and you knew there was a but coming, right now, I wonder if he has the enthusiasm and ability to lift the team out of this current slide towards mid table. For the first time this week, after the limp home defeat to Swindon, we saw Darragh break ranks and make it very clear to all on twitter that he wasn’t happy with Fergie’s tactics. I don’t see a parting of the ways between the clubs two big characters (we don’t like to talk about our Director of Football in public) but this run of awful form and even worse performances can only go on for so long before something has to give.

So, what will the travelling City fans and the thousands watching on Sky get to see on Friday night? Well, our new stand behind the goal, that used to host the hordes of away fans enjoying the terracing, is now complete so we have a 4 sided ground back which is always nice. 

On the pitch, I can’t see Fergie finding any kind of alternatives to the dross that he has served up lately and, as long as City don’t start nervously after 2 defeats on the spin, I can’t see anything other than an away win.

Up The Posh!"

The Exiled Robin

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Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Inside Line: Bristol City v Preston North End (22/11/2014)

And there it is. A first league defeat in controversial circumstances at old rivals Swindon Town.  Now comes a true test of this team’s seemingly strong belief and character, moreso than during games where a defeat had looked on the cards as this team now needs to show how it reacts to a loss, especially one which angered and frustrated manager, players and fans alike.

Steve Cotterill’s temperament and approach will be critical this week.  If he has spent the week getting the players to channel their emotions productively, then Preston could feel the backlash.  If it’s been a week of feelings of injustice and despondency, the outcome could be somewhat different.  

Being 'up for it' seems to be most fans' desire after such a defeat, but without control, that can sometimes be an approach which loses you the sense of purpose and planning with which we have achieved so much this season.  When you throw in the loss of your captain and midfield lynchpin into that mix, due to the moment of most scrutiny, it all adds up to a huge afternoon for these promotion hopefuls.

Someone has to step up and fill Wade Elliott’s boots, be the man the others look to if tempers threaten to boil over and drive the determination for success, especially with Neil Kilkenny certain to be determined to show the fans at Ashton Gate what he occasionally demonstrated in his short time in BS3. 

Great teams are made on how they deal with adversity, if this side is to even approach that relative level, then the reaction in this game – and the one against Posh next week – is going to be key.

Stu Radnedge flew in from his holidays in the Far East to secure an interview with Dave Seddon, @Sedds_LEP who is a lifelong Preston fan who covers his club for the Lancashire Evening Post. My sincere thanks to both for this great review:

“As Bristol City attempt to stomach last week's defeat at Swindon, Preston have been suffering some indigestion of their own recently.  The Lilywhites are suffering a November wobble, eight straight wins - seven of those in the league - giving way to three successive League One defeats.  It is not a complete leg-buckling job, North End having beaten Havant and Waterlooville very comfortably in the FA Cup.

However, their form in the bread and butter of the league has not made Deepdale the happiest of places of late. So some sections of Preston's travelling support will be heading to Ashton Gate this weekend with an air of trepidation, while others see the top three clash as an opportunity for PNE to shake off their dip in form and test themselves against a side who have been setting the pace at the summit.

This is the club's fourth campaign in League One since the relegation season of 2010/11 - overseen first by Darren Ferguson and then Phil Brown. Brown was left in charge to try and lead them back at the first time of asking and then came the Graham Westley era which lasted 13 months and won few friends.

Now the task has fallen on the shoulders of Simon Grayson, his track record at this level an attractive one after promotions with Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield. Grayson is 21 months into the job and this is seen as the season in which he can put a fourth promotion on his managerial CV. When he was appointed in February 2013, his first task was a rescue act to stave off the threat of relegation - something achieved with a degree of comfort.

Last season saw Grayson steadily stamp his mark on the squad although it was still a work in progress in moving on inherited players and bringing in his own targets. In spells they flirted with automatic promotion but never hit the top two, although were rarely out of the top six.

Ultimately North End's hopes of going up were ended by Rotherham in the play-offs, Kieran Agard scoring one of the Millers' goals in the semi-final second leg. Preston [like City! – ER] don't do the play-offs, with defeat to Rotherham their ninth failure in the end of season knock out, so all eyes are on clinching one of the two automatic promotion slots as they seek to return to the Championship and the increase in revenue that brings.

Talk to different Preston fans and you will get differing opinions of the suitability of the squad to sustain a promotion charge. In Joe Garner they have a striker who over the last 12 months has in lethal form in front of goal. Until November 2 last year, 10 months in the shirt of the club he supported as a boy had produced just a single goal. Now he has 36 goals to his name and in the summer North End had to bat off strong interest from Rotherham and Ipswich.  Many of the 12 goals Garner has scored this season have come with him playing in a lone centre-forward role.

Not that he is totally shy of company, Grayson's preferred formation of late having been the 4-2-3-1. The wingers are encouraged to get close to Garner rather than stay out on the touchline, while behind him, Paul Gallagher provides support in the No.10 role. Some supporters though, would love to see another striker playing alongside Garner in a 4-4-2 system which seems the favourite of many. Arguing against that, 4-4-2 can leave teams shy in the centre of midfield and there were games last season when that happened.

Callum Robinson is another goal threat for North End, the teenager having joined on loan from Aston Villa in September. He has tended to play on the left side of Garner and was the hat-trick hero in the 3-0 win over Havant.

Chris Humphrey has a good turn of pace down the right-wing and has found his feet after what many people saw as an inconsistent first season at Deepdale following a Bosman move from Motherwell. Right-back Scott Wiseman will be back in the frame after missing last week's defeat to Bradford. He was otherwise engaged on international duty, playing for minnows Gibraltar against Germany. So after a night chasing Thomas Muller around Nuremberg, his next stop is Ashton Gate.

A member of the Preston midfield familiar to Robins fans will be Neil Kilkenny. The Australian has become a key player in the engine room, given licence to pick the ball up deep and build play. Some fans get frustrated by his sideways passing but better ball retention and patience in possession has been preached by Grayson this season.

This weekend's game is part of a busy schedule on the road for North End. They had four successive midweek trips to Gillingham, Leyton Orient, Swindon and Havant. Last Saturday's home game against Bradford was a brief respite from the travelling, with the visit to Ashton Gate followed by a JPT visit to Oldham on Tuesday night and then next weekend's trip back down the M5 to Yeovil - we'll give you a wave on the way past!”

A great review of our opponent’s strengths and weaknesses from Dave.  My thanks to him again.


The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Inside Line: Swindon Town v Bristol City (15/11/2014)

After a brief hiatus from the league and an all-too-rare level of success in the two cup competitions, City return to league action this weekend in the first of a trio of mouth-watering clashes at the top of league one.  Preston North End and Peterborough United are on the horizon, but for now a classic local derby looks to be on the cards, as Steve Cotterill takes his unbeaten league leaders to the County Ground to face Swindon.

Stu Radnedge caught up with Dan Johnson www.twitter.com/danwjonson - a blogger for the Swindon Advertiser, to get the other Robins’ take on their own great start to the season.

“As the new campaign got underway in August it was hard to predict what sort of season was on the horizon. Due to a courtroom battle over the clubs ownership the club had only signed a handful of players in time for the big kick-off.

However, despite suffering a chaotic pre-season, Town began with a win, beating Scunthorpe 3-1 at the County Ground.  The opening month continued in the same vein with Mark Cooper’s side suffering just one defeat in League One.

Those impressive results continued into September, as Town went throughout the month unbeaten, including three away wins.  One of the best performances came against Sheffield United, where Town brushed aside the promotion contenders 5-2 at the County Ground.  All three of Town’s forward line got on the score sheet, with homegrown talent Louis Thompson adding a fifth in the final five minutes.  This result in particular highlighted the superb style of play on offer at the County Ground.

Despite many calls to change from fans, Mark Cooper has persisted with playing from the back, knocking the ball around in defence.  Using a sweeper in Nathan Thompson who dictates the play, with Yaser Kasim sitting in front of the back three, feeding the ball to either Massimo Luongo or Louis Thompson, who have both been superb this season, the system is all geared around retaining possession of the ball before using the pace on the flanks.

October was another good month for Town, but it was the clubs away form that was taking all the headlines with impressive away wins against Leyton Orient and Chesterfield.

So far this month, Swindon have managed to take a step forward in their home form, beating one of the favourites for promotion Preston North End 1-0, but has suffered two defeats, one away at Milton Keynes, and another in the FA Cup away to Cheltenham.

The 14/15 season is Mark Cooper’s first full campaign at Swindon, after being appointed full-time boss in late August 2013.  Dad Terry Cooper will be well known to Bristol City after playing and managing the club for six years in the 1980’s.

Last season, alongside coach Luke Williams, Cooper built a successful side, that went onto finish in a respectable 8th position in League One.  In this campaign, the former Tamworth and Peterborough boss has built on last season’s success, and stood firm on his style of play, which has paid off so far, with Swindon sitting 3rd in League One, two points outside the automatic promotion spots.

One of the reasons for Town’s new formation was losing key men Alex Pritchard and Nile Ranger in the summer.  Cooper had no choice but to change the teams formation, out went last season’s 4-1-4-1 to a 3-5-2 in this campaign.

Out of the eleven that started in the same fixture last September, five are still playing in the first team.  Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham and club captain Nathan Thompson are the only survivors in the back five, and are now joined by Southampton loanees Jordan Turnbull and Jack Stephens.  Wiltshire-born Turnbull is enjoying his first foray into first team football, but his defensive partner Stephens has enjoyed some experience, and played a key role in Town earning a point at Ashton Gate last season.

Out of all the areas on the pitch, it’s Swindon’s back three that are the most inexperienced, with this weekend’s game far by the biggest game of their young careers.

One of the key differences in the clubs formation this season has been the use of wing-backs. Right sided wing-back Nathan Byrne has been one of the clubs best players so far this season. After playing as a full back in the last campaign, he struggled to make an impression in the side, but since the introduction of a new system, he has flourished in his new position.  Both Amari’i Bell and Harry Toffolo are on loan deals and have been in direct competition to fill the left wing-back position.  Amari’i Bell enjoyed a good start to his loan deal, but in recent weeks has gone off the boil, which has made way for Harry Toffolo, who has grabbed his chance with both hands and put in some impressive displays in recent weeks.

Incredibly over the summer Town managed to keep the best area of the team in one piece, our midfield three of Yaser Kasim, Massimo Luongo and Louis Thompson are still at the club, and enjoying a superb season.  But that talent hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Kasim and Luongo both earning international recognition for Iraq and Australia respectively, meaning both players will be missing for this weekend’s big game at the County Ground.  This comes, as a huge blow for Swindon, with the heartbeat of the team being ripped out for one of the biggest contests of the season, Jake Reeves and Ben Gladwin are likely to take their place in the team.

The biggest change in the team this season has been the talent that Mark Cooper has had to pick from up front.  Last season our standout front man was Nile Ranger, despite what happened in his personal life, no one could doubt his ability on the pitch.  But this season the club has gone from one gifted front man to three talented strikers.  Michael Smith, Andy Williams and Jonathan Obika have racked up 21 goals between them in the league so far this season, nearly ¾ of all Town’s goals in League One.

Chairman Lee Power and manager Mark Cooper have done a great job in producing a competitive team in League One considering the cut backs that have had to be made in the first team, especially the wage bill.

In the last three meetings between the sides, Swindon have been fortunate enough to face a Bristol City side on a bad run of results, but this season they face an unbeaten team full of confidence.  We all know that local derbies never follow the script, with Swindon the home side and missing key players and City the visitors, riding high in the league, it promises to be a must-watch game in Wiltshire this Saturday.”

Huge thanks to Dan for his insight, let's hope his concern at the missing internationals proves a valid one.

It looks and feels like our toughest test of the season to date, at a venue where traditionally we haven’t had loads of success, from memory (stats may tell a different story). What is certain is we’ll have to be firing on all cylinders to get something from the game, but we all know we can do that this season.


The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 7 November 2014

The Inside Line FA Cup Special: Gillingham v Bristol City (08/11/2014)

With two cup games in four days, I fully expect boss Steve Cotterill to give some of the players who have been on this amazing unbeaten and ever-present run a break and get some of the fringe players involved, with the likes of Adam El Abd, Karliegh Osborne, Greg Cunningham, Marlon Pack, JET & Wesley Burns likely to feature prominently and try to propel City into the next round of the respective competitions.

First up is another cup trip to Kent as Gillingham have once again been drawn out of the hat as our opponents, as they were in the league cup last season.  Stu Radnedge spoke to Gills fan James Tong https://twitter.com/jamesthegill to find out more about our potential banana skin.

“After scraping our way to a respectable 17th place last year after promotion the year before, most fans were hoping for a slight improvement this time around, without necessarily pulling up trees. Reducing the number of goals conceded was a priority – we had the joint 2nd worst defence in the division last year, and lost 50% of our matches as well.

Peter Taylor took over from Martin Allen last November to keep the Gills in the division, and many of us were looking forward to see how he fared with a full pre-season and the chance to mould the squad into his own image, as the last time he managed us he promptly lead us to the Championship at the first time of asking.

Unfortunately things haven’t quite gone the way that we hoped. An injury to main man Danny Kedwell at the end of August saw the team’s league form plummet. From a healthy position of seven points in five games we went on a run that saw only one win and four draws in the next 12 league games.

Kedwell has been rushed back into the side clearly unfit, being withdrawn after 70 minutes in each of the three games since his return – not ideal when his main gameplay is a form of high energy pressing, something he’s been unable to do to the full extent. McDonald has been left foraging for scraps on his own up front, cutting a forlorn figure without his strike partner. Millbank, Norris and Dickenson haven’t made their marks as adequate replacements for Kedwell – tricky to do without a decent run of games beside McDonald to gel. News coming out this morning that Kedwell has sustained a knock to the knee and doubtful for tomorrow’s game haven’t helped matters.

But it’s OK, we’ve got three experienced goalkeepers in the squad as potential number 1. Nelson signed a new contract in the summer while Glenn Morris was signed as competition around the same time, and when Nelson injured himself against the Franchise we brought in Stephen Bywater on loan – who promptly marked his debut by chucking an equaliser for Swindon over his shoulder into his own net.

Possibly due to the plethora of options our defence hasn’t been that bad, despite switching between a flat back four, three at the back and “whoever feels like hanging back” at times throughout the season. Our issue remains scoring goals, and the only two teams who’ve scored fewer than us this season are the two below us.

So, we find ourselves with a disappointing cup draw. It was hardly surprising – we missed out on our annual cup game with Bristol City in the Capital One Cup this year, so it was almost inevitable we’d meet in the FA Cup!

A lot of fans – myself included – were hoping for a local derby against former rivals Maidstone United, them being in the first round of the FA Cup for the first time since winking out of existence in 1992, but it wasn’t to be. The last update from the club on Wednesday stated that less than 2,000 tickets had been sold for the game – our lowest attendance outside of the JPT in recent years was 3,751 against Barnet at home in 2012, and there’s a possibility we may not top that on Saturday.

Unsurprisingly, given how fickle many football fans are these days, a fair number are calling for Taylor to get the sack. The manager himself has stated that he “wouldn’t be surprised” to get the chop, but that he wouldn’t walk away as he feels he can turn it around. Chairman Scally has remained quiet on the subject, unusually for him. Rumours persist that a defeat on Saturday could see the end of Taylor’s second spell in charge of the club.

A blunted attack. Barely any tickets sold. A manager under pressure. All signs point to a fair easy victory for Bristol City, but this is the sort of match that we’d go and win 3-2 after being 2-0 down in the 81st minute. Typical Gillingham.”

My thanks to Stu & James for this latest piece, let's hope there are more to come in the F.A.Cup this season!


The Exiled Robin

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