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Monday, 13 April 2015

The Inside Line: Bradford City v Bristol City (14/04/2015)

April 14th, 2015.

Could this be the day? The moment of crowning glory this team has worked so hard for all season? The maths are now simple. A win at Bradford on Tuesday night will mean Bristol City become the first team in the country to gain promotion this season. That in itself is a mark of the success we’ve had, and I’m pretty certain this success-ravenous manager City somewhat stumbled across will be drilling this into his players in the dressing-room before the match.

This is another chance to make headlines as ‘winners’, a chance to get our club’s names and their own names up in lights at the same time.

The accolades will follow as and when promotion is achieved, but I think it’s fair representation of our season, and of our approach, that most fans are travelling up to Yorkshire in expectation rather than hope. Cotterill seems to have created a team of winners across the club and even the fans are now turning up with a a more positive mindset than at any previous time I can recollect.

But it won’t be easy. As explained below, Bradford are another dangerous team in desperate need for points to get anything out of their season. Just as Oldham and Barnsley have proven recently, games against teams scrabbling for those final positions aren’t straight-forward, and especially so away to a team that has already beaten MK Dons twice, Preston, and, of course, the Champions of England-elect, Chelsea.

Mesh Johal @meshjohal of the excellent Width of a Post discussed this key match with Stu Radnedge.

“Come full time on Tuesday night, you guys could clinch promotion and our slim play-off chance could be over. 

For Bristol City, it's a case of nearly job done. Reading snippets of your great blog, I get the impression that this promotion has been two years in the waiting. Once completed (hopefully not on Tuesday...) the promotion and JPT Trophy double achievement will be fully deserved.

For the Bantams, I personally see this season as a major step towards our long-term goal of promotion to the Championship. 

We still have a mathematical chance of a play-off spot, but with seven points to overhaul in just five games, it's a huge ask. Some will see this as a missed opportunity to make the play-offs, however I can't help but feel proud of our League achievements.

Pre-season saw a massive squad overhaul. Many of the League Cup Final/Play Off winners of 2013 departed and there was uncertainty about the team assembled. Fortunately for us Bradfordians, this current class has gelled quickly and performed very well. We've been in and around the mix all season and have had some great wins including a double over the Franchise, and a late winner away to Preston. At times we've shown we can mix it with the best in the league.

Unfortunately, it has been our inability to see out games that has hampered our progress. We've conceded several late goals and have dropped 13 points from winning positions.

The success in the FA Cup has once again propelled us into the mainstream media and further enhanced fans expectations. The victories over Chelsea and Sunderland were crowing moments, however the catalyst for the season was in the less glamorous First Round tie against Halifax. Losing by a goal at half-time, a second half turnaround saw us grind out a 2-1 win, which kicked off a seven game unbeaten run in the league.

Jon Stead started the revival that day and he has been influential this season. Similarly to his days at Ashton Gate, Stead has gained a cult following with the Valley Parade faithful (if you haven't seen it, he did an "Aden Flint" in a Sky Sports interview in January  http://youtu.be/57eCm6xZ88E).

Stead has been vitally important but I still believe manager Phil Parkinson is the key to this club’s success. He has changed the entire mood and ethos around the club during his four year tenure. He has made us proud of our club and city again!

Hopefully with funds from this year’s cup run, he'll be able to add this squad and mount a real promotion push next season.

Or, he could knock off the seven point deficit and take us up this year.

Sounds crazy I know but so was thinking we'd come from two down at Stamford Bridge. And we all know what happened there...”

Despite Mesh’s optimism, I believe this is our time. Championship here we come.


The Exiled Robin

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Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Inside Line: Preston North End v Bristol City (11/04/2015)

It’s tantalisingly close now. Tuesday’s captivating and hard-fought victory over local rivals and promotion rivals Swindon Town has left us within a game or so of securing our passage back to the second tier of English football.

Despite a run of tough games still to come, it does seem a case of ‘when’, and not ‘if’ now for even those most pessimistic of City fans.

But will promotion be enough? Without wanting to be greedy, we’ve been top of the table for most of the season, by a considerable margin for much of it, and we haven’t won a league title in sixty years. Of all the games left, Saturday’s at Deepdale against Preston North End is clearly the most important for that particular issue and will ensure that Cotterill will leave his players in no doubt they cannot ease off the gas right now.

Tuesday’s performance proved that is unlikely anyhow, although that was tinged with revenge for an animosity filled defeat in November. Our other defeat that month, the following week, was more routine and one that although we had three or four very good chances in the first half, few could deny Preston had done enough to earn a result.

Stu Radnedge caught up with Lancashire Evening News reporter Dave Seddon, (@Sedds_LEP) who has given us a great review of the Lilywhites season since that day.

“It is almost five months since Preston went to Ashton Gate and sent a few shock waves rippling through League One with victory over Bristol City. Since that November afternoon, it is fair to say that North End have packed much into their agenda!

The victory cigars from the 1-0 scoreline had only just been smoked when the Lilywhites were dealt a double blow. You might remember that Joe Garner came off at half-time in the game, appearing for the second half in the dug out in his tracksuit. It transpired that the tendon at the top of his shin had detached itself from the bone after he had landed awkwardly from a first-half collision. That was the first injury of its type seen in a footballer by the specialist who examined Garner and subsequently operated on him.

We were just digesting the news of the striker's impending surgery and lengthy absence, when Callum Robinson - scorer of the winner against the Robins - got recalled from his loan by Aston Villa. Annoyingly, Robinson did not get a single minute of first-team football at Villa after being summoned back.

The bad news concerning Garner and Robinson came literally hours apart and an air of gloom descended on Deepdale, smothering the feelgood factor built-up after beating City. North End vowed to cover their losses before the loan deadline a couple of days later but only ended-up with Bradley Fewster from Middlesbrough. The young striker lasted two weeks before getting homesick and returning to Boro without kicking a ball in the first-team.

Without Garner and Robinson, Preston coped remarkably well, following-up their Ashton Gate victory with a nine-game unbeaten run. But January was a sticky month to say the least, the only joy being a 2-0 win over Norwich in the third round of the FA Cup. They tumbled out of the JPT to Walsall over two legs, were beaten by Sheffield United and Crawley, while points were thrown away in Deepdale draws with lowly Leyton Orient and Yeovil.

The green shoots of recovery started to poke through with the £50,000 bargain-bucket signing of Daniel Johnson from Aston Villa in late January. Robinson rejoined on loan from Villa on transfer deadline day and Garner made the bench for the FA Cup replay at Sheffield United on February 3.
You could say that those three events were season-changing moments.

North End went to Bramall Lane and beat the Blades 3-1 to set up a fifth-round tie with Manchester United at Deepdale. Only once since then have they been beaten, United beating them rather controversially in front of a capacity crowd. Scott Laird's 47th minute goal had PNE fans dreaming of a huge cup shock, only for Louis van Gaal's side to battle back to win 3-1. Two of United's three goals should not have stood but referee Phil Dowd had his Premier League-tinted glasses on that night.

North End's unbeaten run stands at 13 league games, that sequence including a 2-0 away win at MK Dons and back-to-back Easter wins over Rochdale (1-0) and Bradford (3-0). For those City fans intending to travel to Valley Parade on Tuesday night, don't expect to see a playing surface conducive to passing football. 

As for Saturday's top-of-the-table clash at Deepdale, it should be a cracker. Johnson is the man in form with seven goals in 14 games from midfield, while Jermaine Beckford has helped himself to five goals since returning from five weeks out with a severe inner ear infection.

Preston need the points to keep a decent-size gap between themselves and MK Dons. Automatic promotion is a must, one glance at our play-off record telling you why.

Swindon still have to come here on April 25, with games against Gillingham (h), Port Vale (a) and Notts County (a) before then. After playing that Swindon lot, it is off to Colchester on the final day.

Fingers crossed, we will be meeting you again in the Championship next season.”

Fingers crossed indeed, I think the vast majority of City fans would rather North End join us in the automatic spots than Swindon or Franchise FC.

One last push for the title, COYR!

The Exiled Robin

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Monday, 6 April 2015

The Inside Line: Bristol City v Swindon Town (07/04/2015)

Tomorrow night sees the long-awaited rematch of The Robins'. November's clash at The County Ground saw controversy and, in some people's eyes, over-the-top celebrations from Swindon, who ended City's long unbeaten start to the season.

Here's a preview from Swindon fan, Dan Johnson Apologies for any formatting issues, uploading this via phone en route to my pre-arranged London break following the Easter Monday fixture....

Before we take a look back at the reverse fixture and tomorrows encounter, let’s take a neutral outlook at both clubs.

Bristol City are top of League One for a reason, they have been the most consistence side the division, no-one can argue that they don’t deserve promotion.

City will be playing Championship football next season, most likely as League One champions.

Swindon have also enjoyed a superb season, whilst the Robins from Ashton Gate were expected to be challenging at the top of the table, the majority of Town fans would have neverpredicted a season spent inside the top four of the division.

Swindon Town 1-0 Bristol City

It’s been a season of overachievement at the County Ground, where one of the biggest highlights was last November, when an unbeatenside visited SN1.

A lot has been said between fans about the last encounter between the two sides, so let’s look at some of the points that some fans are still finding hard to move on from.

I personally did not see the Wade Elliot and Jack Stephens tussle at the game, and due to a slow cameraman we haven’t got proof one way or another, it’s all down to what people say they witnessed.

I’ve heard many different accounts from both sets of supporters, but my opinion is that just before the incident Stephens shrugs off Elliot and the City man retaliates, it did spoil what could have been a cracking game, but for such an experienced player, Wade Elliot should have known better.

Their battle tomorrow night will be interesting to watch.

I’ve also seen a lot of chat about Swindon fans over celebrating at the final whistle, and it was “our cup final”.

Swindon Town v Bristol City is the clubs biggest home game of the season.

Playing your local rivals is always a great occasion, and this time it had the extra incentive of City defending an unbeaten league record.

Also winning that game moved Town into the top two spots in the league, I can understand the supporters, players and clubs celebrations.

Hopefully we can now all move on from that game and start to look forward to what should be a cracking game tomorrow.

Update on Swindon’s season

After that game in November, Town went on a good run of results, only losing 1 in 10, whichput the club top of the table in mid-January.

But after that run of successful results came a damaging run that would end the clubs chances of winning the league title, going onto only win 2 games out of 8 from late January to the start of March.

But since then Swindon have won 4 out of 5 in the league and up until the weekend were still looking at a possible top two finish.

Saturday’s 3-0 home defeat to Milton Keynes was a huge blow to the clubs top two chances, but with eight games still to go and footballbeing an unpredictable business, dreams of a top two finish aren’t totally dead just yet.

Bristol City v. Swindon Town

Due to Swindon’s home defeat on Saturday, tomorrow’s game cannot come soon enough; the club and the fans need another game to get the stench of that performance off them.

It’s a great occasion for Bristol City fans, as they have nothing to lose from the contest, if Swindon takes all the points from Ashton Gate, City fans will say they don’t care, as they will be celebrating promotion soon anyway, regardless of the result.

If City manages a win, it ends a 12-year wait for a win over Swindon, that comes with bragging rights and it adds three more points to the total, it’s a win-win situation.

Obviously Swindon have more pressure on their shoulders to go out and get a result, if we want to keep the automatic promotion dream alive, this is a must-win game.

It should be a great contest with both sides playing the game the right way, the local derby factor, and the home side desperate to get revenge for last Novembers defeat.

Thanks for reading City fans, again congratulations on your upcoming promotion, I hope that this local derby will continue into next season, but inside the second-tier of English football.

Follow me on Twitter @danwjonson

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Inside Line: Oldham Athletic v Bristol City (Good Friday, 2015)

Easter is so often a critical time in the shake-up for key issues, with two games in three or four days, but with so much of 2015 being that way for City, and the lead at the top remaining in double-digits for now, it’s probably more a case of not having a disaster than needing two wins. Saying that, wouldn't it be fantastic to grab a pair of victories, and all but seal promotion back to the Championship in the first week of April?!

But at this stage of the season anyone still remotely involved in the shake-up for any positions fits the bill as tough opposition, and Oldham won’t be wanting to roll over. They’re five points off the top six, and defeat in this game would probably destroy their hopes of making the end-of-season jamboree once and for all.

Josh Bowker gave Stu Radnedge a Latics view of what’s been an eventful time at Boundary Park since we last met...

“It’s been a crazy few months since our last fixture, way back at the start of November. Latics went into that game on a good run of form, having made themselves hard to beat, and an assault at the upper echelons of the division looked like a real possibility. Alas, almost everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, with Latics unable to maintain that early season consistency, combined with (or more likely, caused by) a controversial week at the forefront of national and international news, and the horribly-timed departure of Lee Johnson. It seems 2015-16 will be another season in the third tier for Oldham.

After the Ched Evans debacle subsided – a period in which Oldham did not pick up a single point - Latics did manage to regain some form. Home victory over Swindon in February left Oldham in 5th place, and a year where at least one play-off spot is going to go to a “lesser” team, there was a real hope and belief that it could be us. 

Two games and two losses later, Johnson had gone. He had done a decent, if not remarkable job at Latics, and both himself and the majority of his playing staff had long term contracts in place, and it really felt like everything was setting up for Johnson to lead us to the Championship. He himself radiated that belief, using local and social media to his and the club’s advantage, and the overwhelming majority of supporters were completely behind him.

How was his departure seen by the Latics faithful? Let’s fast-forward to the 14th March: his return to Oldham in charge of Barnsley. He walked out of the tunnel, arms raised, ready to applaud the welcoming crowd on his return. It didn’t exactly go as he expected. Johnson and his assistant Tommy Wright were greeted with loud boos, cries of “Judas,” and received abuse and vitriol for 90 minutes, and at full time the security staff that had surrounded him ended up ushering him down the tunnel. Not that he’ll care, Barnsley comfortable beat an injury-ravaged Latics 3-1, and Johnson has still yet to lose at Barnsley.

I’m sure people will question why he got such a negative reaction. After all, he arrived with the club teetering on the verge of relegation, managed to keep them up, and his first full season in charge was an improvement, if not spectacular. Most supporters envisaged Johnson leaving at some point; he had gone about his business quietly and effective, and he somehow came out of the Evans mess with an increased reputation – although it later transpired that Johnson himself pushed for the move.

Although Barnsley are certainly a bigger club that Oldham – the fan-base and budget shows that – they didn’t seem big enough to justify walking out on the club that gave him his chance, backed him in the transfer market, and gave him a three-year contract extension very early in his career. Another gripe with the supporters came when Barnsley’s press release stated that Johnson has produced a 100 day plan which impressed in the interview (a document Johnson maintains he drafted six years ago, and only required minimal tweaks). Nevertheless, during the period of negotiations, Latics slipped to two miserable defeats against lowly Leyton Orient and Colchester.

Dean Holden has done well to steady the ship, and deserves great credit for the circumstances in which he has done so, in the face of Johnson’s departure and a squad beset with injuries. But a record of 3 wins in his 8 games seems like the play-offs have slipped away for another season, and despite there only being a 4 point gap, it would take a monumental effort to reach the holy grail of 6th place. A top half finish would be improvement and probably be quantified a success, and with the core of the squad tied down for next year at least, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be an attractive option for a talented manager out there. Are you reading, Mark Warburton? (One can dream).

I think we’d be happy with a point on Saturday. City have obviously had a fantastic season, and the double seems a formality (I’m sure that won’t be a jinx). I’m glad to see Korey’s done well, but Liam Kelly has been a more than able replacement. If he’s on form, we don’t lose, and it’s absolutely not a coincidence that our two worst spells have been when Kelly has been sidelined. James Wilson’s impressive start at the club has faded slightly, and he’s currently injured, but getting him back to his best would be a real boost.

My prediction is 1-1. Holden’s centre-back pairing of Adam Lockwood and Anthony Gerrard have been really solid and effective, if not easy on the eye, but goals have been a real problem for us all year, especially since Jonathan Forte dried up. Conor Wilkinson for Latics, Aden Flint for you guys (I’m a dreadful predictor, don’t trust me).”

We haven’t drawn many games this season but with us possibly tightening up a little with the finish line in place, that prediction probably won’t be a million miles away.

COYR – and Happy Easter everybody!

The Exiled Robin

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Exclusive: QPR to woo Cotterill with £10m war-chest

This morning's London-based Hammersmith Gazette newspaper has reported the following story:

"Queens Park Rangers are ready to hand Steve Cotterill, the current Bristol City manager, a £10m incentive to leave the Westcountry and return to Loftus Road, IF current caretaker boss Chris Ramsey fails to keep the R's in the Premier League.

A club insider has told us that owner Tony Fernandes was impressed with Cotterill when he had an eleven-month spell as a coach under then boss Harry Redknapp, and the Cheltenham-born manager's stock has risen ever since with a hugely successful spell at Ashton Gate.

Cotterill came in with the Robins bottom of League One in December 2013, but led them to safety comfortably, and has followed that up in spectacular style this season.

Cotterill's side, who won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy in front of over 72,000 fans at Wembley last month, are currently ten points clear at the top of League One and are odds-on favourites to clinch the title and gain promotion to the Championship,

Cotterill has had tremendous success in Bristol

However, if Rangers find themselves in the same division as Bristol next season, they will make a huge pot of money available for Cotterill to guide them back to the top flight at the first time of asking.  The new multi-billion pound TV deal means Fernandes is not prepared to take any chances and wants a proven winner in charge to ensure their stay is restricted to just one season.

Ramsey has steadied the ship since taking over, but Rangers remain deep in trouble with the threat of an expensive relegation looming large and Fernandes doesn't want to lose any time on a big summer shake-up.

Former Wimbledon player, Cotterill, has previously managed Stoke City, Burnley, Portsmouth and Nottingham Forest."

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