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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Inside Line: Bristol City v Yeovil Town (Boxing Day, 2014)

Precisely one year after Bristol City went into Christmas bottom of the league, we enter the 2014 festive season the maximum number of places higher; top of the pile.

However, a once relatively substantial lead has been largely eliminated and for the nuetrals, if there are many that watch league one, an enthralling second half to the season lies ahead with the top four separated by just a single point.

In the absence of any real competition from the blue lot north of the river, and setting aside a more traditional ‘M4 derby’, the Yeovil fixture was one many City fans would have sought out when the fixtures were released in the summer, and for once the computer didn’t disappoint. The only disappointment is that if it were not for the reduced capacity, this local derby, with City flying high, would have almost certainly attracted a capacity bank holiday crowd, meaning a lesser atmosphere and circa £200,000 lost revenue.

Throw in the fact that it’s the return of Gary Johnson – our most successful manager since Alan Dicks – and the occasion rises even further in terms of emotional significance for many (some probably won’t care in amongst their festive fumes!).

On a personal note I still love Gary Johnson – for the job he did here, for the way he got the whole club behind him, for his cheekiness and quips – and no-one could deny they were disappointed in the way it ended, even if by that stage a significant number were backing his replacement.

I also used to go and watch Yeovil occasionally, being a Somerset boy, when they had a big cup match or league title deciders, providing City weren’t playing. I remember watching them play Enfield (I think) in front of nearly 8.000 at Huish Park, a quite remarkable feat for any non-league side and to have them as our main local rivals still seems strange and a bit surreal at times.

I was also looking forward to this game to welcome back Glovers fan, Ben Barrett, to the blog. Ben follows Yeovil avidly from his base in the cold North and writes for the visitor’s programme.

Stu Radnedge has got his work done ahead of the Christmas break and caught up with Ben, who provided these informative and insightful words.

“The Yeovil Town season in around 500 words, I reckon I could just about squeeze it into 500 books, it's been quite something!

We dropped out of the Championship without a care in the world, the experience would stand us in good stead, it would allow us to drop into League One a better side, a side the rest of the division would take seriously and we'd be challenging for promotion like we know we can.

Or at least that was the plan.

We're currently stuck in the bottom four of League One still trying to sort out what our best team is while trying to figure out what on earth went wrong... we beat Watford 3-0 on their own patch a year ago. Leicester needed a Kaspar Schmiechal header to rescue a point not long back... now we needed two attempts to get past Accrington Stanley.

Now, that's a very negative start and I'm not a negative person, not in the slightest. So, here's the positives.

Away from home, we've been pretty good - which makes for decent days out for those of us exiled up north. Wins at Walsall, Bradford and Notts County are all impressive, but Oldham started off like a house on fire yet we went and trounced them 4-0 in their own back yard.

So, why the difference?

Attendances have dropped and so some say the home atmosphere has suffered equally, the "big" teams and "big" games have been and gone. Instead of Nottingham Forest and Leeds it's Colchester and Fleetwood. Not to knock those sides, but they haven't got quite the same 'pull'. There's less pressure away from home - or at least that's the theory. Home fans turning on their side reverberate around the ground and can be felt, yet the away following is normally a very passionate and vocal bunch who are out to make sure their presence is felt. Normally for the better.

Of course, there has been one major issue. Recruitment. On paper, the likes of Chris Weale, Brendan Moloney and Aaron Martin brought experience and nous to the team, sadly they've all disappointed.
The first set of loans have been a bit of a flop too, Ben Nugent at the back is a bit of a long ball merchant and the likes of Jordy Hiwula have been and gone without really needing their kit washed. That said, in the last month the arrivals of Jed Steer, Stephen Arthurworrey and Jordan Clarke have been like a breath of fresh air. When Tom Eaves finds his feet he could be a real handful too.

The midfield four of Sam Foley, Joe Edwards, Simon Gillett with one of Kevin Dawson and Joel Grant (if they ever get fit) is still, in my opinion as good as any in the division. That shouldn't be overlooked. However, keeping a settled, injury free side seems to be as tough as anything.

Striker Kieffer Moore has probably been one of the stars this season, yet he's played so little it's hard to know what he's truly capable of. He came back from injury to book our place against Man Utd then takes a crack to the foot in training and turns up on crutches last Saturday - how's your luck?

The social networks (firstly, not a total overview of the total fan base) are awash with people either pinning themselves into #JohnsonOut or #JohnsonIn categories, I'm not in either - but I know I left the Accrington FA Cup tie as angry as I ever been, but still positive enough to make the 8 hour round trip from Leeds to see the replay ... because that's just what you do.

So, what I'm trying to say is... I haven't got a scooby do what this season is all about... I'm not sure any of the supporters do. We're easily good enough to stay up, that much I know. It might mean a bit of tinkering in January, hopefully the few quid the Man Utd game will generate will be enough to reinvest in some movement, but we'll be fine.

I guess looking slightly longer term we should be looking to find that formula again that will propel us to being a top half side, a side who looks at the Championship with a gaze that says "We haven't finished with you yet" rather than "aaaah, those were the days".

I suppose this is point that we realise that Bristol City already have one foot in the second tier - don't give me that look, you're going up, end of. Well done. It's even more impressive considering you're doing it with our reserve side... there's no envy or anything in that line... honest. *Removes tongue from cheek*.

We're chuffed for Luke Ayling - he's far too good for League One, always was, I just hope that he doesn't remember his newly found scoring boots on Boxing Day... he scored twice in the league in something like a million games for us... he does that in about 10 minutes for you. Typical.

As for Kieran Agard and Luke Freeman... when did they become so good? When we had the them they were learning the game, the "Twansfer" Agard was quick but reckless, he would run but forget the ball. I guess that progression has reached it's peak now at the benefit of the Robins. The same applies to Freeman, he just wasn't ready with us, had all the effort in the world, just a year or two behind where we wanted him to be. By the same theory, you'll sign Jordy Hiwula from Man City in a couple years and he'll be a world beater.

Onto Boxing Day then. Your guess is as good as mine. You should wallop us, six or seven if you want them...

But the word I'm looking at in there is 'should'. We don't do things how they 'should' be done.

If your lads aren't 100% up for it, ours will be. We spent the whole of last season proclaiming to be the "Best team in the west"... I just hope our team give us reason to back that up.

Don't ask me for a prediction, I wouldn't even know where to begin. Geographically it may matter a lot, but there's bigger fish that need frying in both camps. You'll want to take as much of the season off as possible with Championship status confirmed sooner rather than later. Our lads will be auditioning for Man United squad places and getting us those points we need to stay up. Both teams will know a lot about each other - don't rule out a red card either as tackles will surely fly in.

This is one I looked for when the fixtures came out, but sadly there's no local rivalry to my thoughts any more, just a need to sort out this roller coaster season. 

In many ways, December and January will define a season - may well define Johnson's time at Yeovil too - and Bristol City are right in the firing line.

Strap yourselves in. This could be a good one.”


Huge thanks to both Stu and Ben for their time during this busy period. May I take this opportunity to wish everyone who read the blog and follows me on Facebook or Twitter, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

COYR!


The Exiled Robin

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