"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Monday, 10 October 2016

Gerry Gow: One of Bristol City's greatest players of our greatest team

The news of Gerry Gow's passing has stirred many memories from fans old enough to have him play in his prime to those younger fans who never did, but who have heard so much about the great man.

A couple of years back I wrote this blog post on City's promotion side of 1975-76, a side which had Gow very much in its engine room - appearing as an ever-present as City, finally, once again reached the top flight after decades in the wilderness.

Quite simply, he was one of the best and most-loved players in our greatest team, and that tells you all you need to know


The Exiled Robin

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Monday, 8 August 2016

Tammy Abraham - a view from Chelsea

It’s been a summer of huge excitement at Ashton Gate with the completion of the West Stand setting the perfect backdrop to the most extravagant outlay of our existence. Millions of pounds we know about, plus plenty we probably don’t in loan fees, signing-on fees and wages have led to a glut of exciting signings of mainly young players, a nice mixture of experienced mid 20-somethings and younger, high potential players.

Having already snapped up players from Juventus and Bayern Munich, Lee Johnson and Mark Ashton have turned their attention closer to home with the latest loan signing and could have just landed the most exciting signing of them all, from Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea.

Whilst there may be a touch of self-congratulation around it, both Johnson and Ashton have talked about the lengths they’ve gone to so as to snap up the teenage striker who was also being linked with a move to Spanish La Liga side Real Betis. As is often the case with these sorts of things, it was as much the club and their new coach, Antonio Conte, who needed persuading of our plans, approach and style of football as the player himself.

On first impressions, we have a young player with all the attributes needed to be an old-fashioned number nine.  At six foot five inches tall, he has the height to be a real threat in the air, but also looks to have strength and pace not always seen in those so tall. And then there’s his goal record…

Whilst he was seen briefly in making a superb, immediate impact as substitute on Saturday, many won’t have seen a huge amount of him so I asked the Chelsea blog @PrideOLondon for their views on their youth team star, who has scored an impressive 74 goals in just 98 games during his youth career.

Their youth team expert Siva Sankar penned these words for the Exiled Robin:

"Tammy Abraham has been at Chelsea since he was nine years old. He is one of the top prospects to have come through Chelsea academy and at the age of 18 is ready to take the next step.

Tammy is a naturally gifted with strength and pace that belie his tall, lanky frame. He has had little professional experience to date but one thing that is of little doubt is that physically he's ready to cope with the Championship. His height and strength will give him great advantage when competing for goal kicks or for crosses in the box. But the truth is that Tammy has a lot more in his locker. Chelsea realised long ago that physically he was better than his peers and sought to aid him in developing his footwork and technique.

To that effect, he has been played on the wing quite a lot as well. He can score all sorts of goals and his goal scoring record speaks for itself.

Bristol City sure seem enamoured by him as their pursuit of him has been a long one. This is a loan that will make all parties involved happy.

He has been assigned the number nine and that is very apt because Tammy is the quintessential player of that position. His physical attributes aligned with good technique and a real desire to score make him a potent, well rounded, all action centre forward.

He is also a willing worker who will give his all on the pitch. All these are traits that will endear him to the fans and hopefully he can help himself and the club do well this season. The learning curve will be steep for him and hopefully he will be afforded patience to fully settle into his new environs and the rigors and pressures of professional football.”

My thanks to Siva and Pride of London for their help with this.

If City fans weren’t excited enough by the hype of the signing, then the start Abraham made in his brief appearance on Saturday will have blown it into orbit. But we should remember this is a very young player with a lot to learn, and he will have quiet days, bad games. But with some support in a side looking to attack and work around him as Lee Tomlin in particular will look to do, he can develop significantly in his time with us and play a big part in our season.


Thursday, 21 July 2016

Callum O'Dowda - the future's bright!

In the first of a series of pieces in the lead up to the new season, I take a look at one of our new signings, one who is arguably both the least known and the most exciting in terms of potential.

It’s pretty safe to say that when the rumours started surfacing about City landing this young, Oxford winger, most had to quickly Google the name to find out a little bit more about him. Kemar Roofe took most of the plaudits at the Kassam Stadium last season and was the player fans perhaps hoped we’d be in for this summer.

On a little more investigation, the move comes as little surprise when you hear Mark Ashton was a big fan of O’Dowda whilst at the U’s, and gets on well with his family. Whether or not you feel Ashton should be the one identifying players or not is a matter for another day, but you’d hope and assume with the network now in place that Lee Johnson has also seen enough to be convinced.

Equally, digging a little deeper I have found out that some at the club actually rated O’Dowda as a better prospect than the afore-mentioned Roofe, despite the latter grabbing most of the headlines last season with his goals and form.

So who is Callum O’Dowda? Well I aim to follow this up with a more in-depth look at him via an interview, but for now I’ll give you the words of Patrick McCarry (@patmccarry), correspondent for Irish Sports website www.SportsJOE.ie.

“Bristol City are getting a lad who has seemingly come from nowhere but who looks like he has been around for ages!

He is a pacy winger, with a trick or two in the bag, but likes to drift in and get on the ball. He had a great 2015/16 with Oxford and scored a brace against Barnet earlier this year.

His grandfather, Brendan O'Dowda, is Irish so that made him eligible to play for us. He was called up for Ireland U21s in March and scored on his second appearance for that side.

Martin O'Neill was hearing good things about him so got Steve Guppy to watch him in club action. A senior call-up soon arrived and he made his debut against Belarus in a 2-1 home defeat before Ireland set off for Euro 2016.

He stood out like a beacon in that game, unafraid to take on and beat his man and demand the ball in the tightest of spots.

My SportsJOE colleague, Conan O'Doherty gave him 8/10 and wrote:
‘Was given just 20 minutes to prove himself to O'Neill and, Jesus, he did everything he could to impress in that time. Looked lively, looked creative, confident and positive and really made things happen for Ireland. As late as late bolters go.’

He was a genuine option for O'Neill at Euro 2016, but he went instead with David Meyler as he could cover a number of defensive and midfield roles. Irish fans have only caught a glimpse of him so far but his Championship move should change all that. Expect him to be a regular in Ireland's World Cup Qualifiers squads!”

A regular in a half-decent Republic of Ireland squad and potentially better than Roofe certainly sounds exciting, and helps justify the apparent fee of over one million pounds – one of the largest in our history.

Let’s hope he can fulfil that potential with us and ensure no-one is googling Callum O’Dowda in future to find out who he is.


Big Sam Allardyce, England Manager

'Big’ Sam Allardyce. England manager.

Yes really.

On the face of it, no-one should be too surprised. He’s an Englishman who has managed in the Premier League for most of the last 15 years, and – on paper – has done a pretty good job at most of the clubs he’s managed at.

Most recently he got West Ham back up at the first attempt and then consolidated their position in the Premier League, giving Slaven Bilic their platform for his success last season. He then somehow saved Sunderland from inevitable relegation last season, with an inspired signing of Jermaine Defoe providing the firepower once he’d re-organised and patched up the division’s worst-looking defence and turned them into clean sheet regulars.

His hugely successful stint at Bolton is perhaps drifting into the memory banks but what he achieved there – especially when you look at where they are now – was nothing short of miraculous, albeit one that set in motion the start of the build-up of debt that has so crippled the club now. In fact he almost certainly should have got the job in 2006 when Steve McClaren was handed the reins and he has no budget to push for with England.

His time at Newcastle and Blackburn is viewed as being less successful, with Newcastle fans in particular seemingly still reeling from that period, but being sacked at both clubs only tells part of the story. On each occasion new owners – Mike Ashley at St.James’ Park and the infamous Venky’s at Blackburn – had recently come to the club and, as so often happens, wanted to stamp their own mark with their own hand-picked manager.

Both clubs sacked him whilst they were just the wrong side of the table’s mid-point, feeling they were going nowhere. They were though. Both were relegated within 18 months of Allardyce leaving. Was he over-achieving with both?

So what’s wrong with this appointment? Why have so many reacted with such ferocity, suggesting the FA have lost their minds?

Well, it’s ‘Big Sam’.

Some are inevitably likening him to Mike Bassett, with a partly-understandable, partly-unfair stereotyping him of an 80’s style English manager. You know; big man up-front, big defenders, tough midfielders and generally only score goals from set-pieces. That kinda thing.

And he certainly has a track record of a backs-to-the-wall, attritional style of football. The consolidation pointed to above, with Blackburn, Newcastle and West Ham, is often deemed insufficient by fans and owners alike who get comfortable, want to press on and only realise what they’ve got when it’s gone. And consolidation, of course, hasn’t led to a major trophy win as a manager, something everyone seems very keen to point out about Sam.

But that belies his time at Bolton where he successfully built teams around the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff, allowing them the platform to dazzle, create and entertain and reached not only the UEFA Cup, as it was, by finishing sixth, but a League Cup final which they lost by the odd goal.

He’s certainly a Marmite selection and the view of those in support of him barely stretches beyond ‘he can’t do any worse’, but he is the new gaffer and deserves at least the two year window, if not the four years that the international game revolves around.

My own personal view is that England should have cast the net wider. It seems as if it was an Englishman plus one or two options, but when managers of the calibre and with the cvs of Hiddink, Wenger, Pellegrini, Ranieri and Benitez have such strong links to the English game, you have to assume one or two of them would have been tempted with the right offer.

But if you get too snooty about Allardyce being the chosen on, then recall we’ve just been knocked out of one of the most average European Championships there has ever been by Iceland. Remember we haven’t reached a major final for 50 years and that even ‘doing a Wales’ and getting to the last four of a major tournament was last achieved two decades ago, before Marcus Rashford was even born.

Doubts will remain about his style of play and whether England will be entertaining enough. My answer to that is pretty simple. Would you rather keep clean sheets, nick games by the odd goal and win the European Championships like Portugal have just done, or try to keep endless possession, then badly fluff your lines when going forward before showing up immense weaknesses in your organisation in defence, like England managed so adeptly this summer?

Hodson’s idea of attacking, entertaining football was to play any number of strikers regardless of whether they fitted into the team structure or not, but all that did was leave us short on those able to defend and create in the middle of the park.

Whatever the natural ridicule following the Iceland defeat, you can’t say that Walker, Rose, Smalling and Cahill are worse players than those who turned out for Iceland, Northern Ireland or Wales (with the possible exception of Ashley Williams). Otherwise all their players would be playing Champions League football and be plying their trade at clubs finishing in the top five of the Premier League. They’re not, because individually they’re not as good, yet were made to look light years in front of us at times.

You struggle to imagine an Allardyce side would have conceded a goal from a long throw-in. There’s no way he’d have had Harry Kane taking corners and I suspect the honest, hard-working Danny Drinkwater would have been rewarded with a place in the squad over two midfielders with barely a couple of games between them since the early Spring.

Would Andy Carroll have been a more viable option to throw on when things did get desperate, someone to knock down and hold up those 60-yard passes from Rooney out of defence?

So what are we getting with the new England manager? Organisation, set-piece expertise, both defensively and in attack (43% of Sunderland’s goals last season were scored from set-pieces).

We’re certainly getting someone with a lot more character than Roy Hodgson, and maybe that rubs off naturally. One accusation Hodgson could never seemingly shake was that his dour demeanour filtered through to the players who were left uninspired and short of ideas.

You won’t get that with Big Sam. There will be passion, hard work and absolutely, definitely no giving up.

By far the worst worst element of England pathetic exit in France was that with 20 minutes to go we just seemed to give up the ghost without even a snivelling whimper of the quietest order.

Oh, and for those who say Allardyce will take us back to ‘the bad old days’ of long ball English hoofball. Have you really seen a worse performance than the one against Iceland? How can it get worse than that?

One might argue we tried this with Keegan, getting someone in with passion to inspire the players, but Allardyce is substantially more capable than Keegan ever was tactically, hence his prolonged stay at the top of the game.

You can manage on passion for a short while, but then you get found out. The evidence from last season’s successful escape indicates Allardyce has yet to be found out. But now he faces his biggest test in one of the most high-profile jobs in football.

Will we win the World Cup under Sam? Probably not, but then we haven’t won any of the last 12 either. 

Have we got a better chance of going further by being better organised, playing with good spirit and being a real team? Of course we have.

What you can be sure of is that Big Sam Allardyce won’t shirk this challenge, in fact he’ll positively relish every second of it.

He won’t give up and for that, at least, he deserves the support of every English football fan.

The Exiled Robin

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Hillsborough: Supporters, not criminals


27 long years, almost to the day after the dreadful tragedy on that warm, spring day, the families of the Hillsborough victims finally had their loved ones’ names exonerated this week. Having spent a lifetime being told their criminal activity caused the disaster, their names are finally clear and they can truly, for the first time, rest in peace.

As the truth has slowly seeped out over the last two decades, the outpouring of highly emotive comments from football fans far and wide has been hugely prevalent and that’s not only because it was such an awful event, with such obvious injustice. It’s partly because anyone who attended games at that time, and indeed, anyone who still does now, knows that it could have been them. Their friends, their parents, their children.

I personally remember sitting in Block E of the Dolman Stand on that day. City were losing 2-1 at home to Blackpool in front of a little over 5,000 of their own fans – which tells its own story about the shape of the entire game of football in those days.

I was listening to my Sony Walkman – always tuned to what must have been Radio 2 in those days as they covered sport on a Saturday afternoon before Radio 5Live went on the airwaves – and hearing the events unfold. At first it was just confusion and uncertainty, but then the story began to become clearer.

I distinctly remember mentioning to my friend’s Dad who used to take me to games that the radio was saying there appeared to be a handful of people who were lying dead on the pitch. To this day, despite being just 11 years old at the time, I can recall his response (almost certainly trying to be reassuring for his young match companion) word for word.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad. The media always exaggerate things – it can’t be that bad”.

It was. And on a greater and more horrendous scale than anyone could have possibly imagined.

It could have been us. It could have been any one of us and without wanting to be too macabre about it all, you can see how something could happen still to this day – perhaps not on the scale of Hillsborough thankfully, but crowd control by the police at big matches still often leaves a lot be to be desired.

We’re supporters, not criminals, and that should always be at the forefront of the police’s mind, yet often it is simply not the case. Steve Cotton’s column in the Bristol Post last week shows that completely innocent supporters are still being treated as guilty until they can prove otherwise. Suspicion reigns and certain forces are far more forceful and reactive than others – I won’t name names as anyone who travels away will know exactly who I am talking about.

Yes, there are fans who sometimes turn up drunk and, on occasions, cause a disturbance. Yes there are sadly still some who go to games with the specific aim of causing trouble. But the statistics and the real-life experience is that they are a tiny, tiny minority of the main football-going public. Yet controls, surveillance and ‘hoarding’ is still far too prevalent amongst the rest of us.

On three occasions in recent times (and I only go to a handful of away games these days) I’ve been frogmarched, along with many others I should add, from a pub close to the railway station directly to the turnstiles, not trusted to make my own way there, not able to stop for a bite to eat or a bottle of water, despite showing not a single sign of causing trouble. Indeed on those marches the most likely problems will be a reaction to the over-aggressive shoving and pushing of the police to get people back in line if one dares walk on the wrong bit of concrete, or show a slightly over-exuberant approach to the singing.

That’s an issue for the police to look at themselves and I’d be disappointed if those in charge of forces up and down the country weren’t at least prompted to review their procedures and policies based on today’s rulings.

But today is for those guilty of cover-up, abuse and victimisation to look deep inside themselves and try to understand why they did what they did. Why they felt capable of lying to the families of the innocent dead.

Today is very much for the victims and their families. They’ve fought an unbelievably strong, concerted campaign for justice and today they will feel a million different emotions, the over-bearing one of which must be relief, despite the obvious sorrow.

Their family members were unlawfully killed. It wasn’t their fault.

They were innocent supporters, not criminals.

The Exiled Robin

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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Bobby Reid: Is it now or never?

Now is Bobby Reid's time.
He's always shown in fits and starts he can perform with great ability, but has struggled to match those levels consistently.

My latest blog looks in more detail at his recent form and what he needs to do next.


Comments, shares etc welcome as ever.

Thanks all, COYR!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Are Brighton the new model to follow?

My latest blog post for the Bristol Post, focusing on Tuesday night's defeat against Brighton and suggesting they might well be 'the model' we should be following over the next few seasons.

"THERE was a huge popping sound at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night, the noise of a bubble bursting that would have been heard as far afield as Milton Keynes, the South of London and Yorkshire as well as Bolton, had they not all been suffering equally that evening....."

More here:


What do you think, reasonable expectations or pie in the sky? Comments and thoughts welcome as always!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Scott Golbourne: He's Coming Home - a Wolves view

The signing of Scott Golbourne (not Goldborne, Goldbourne or Golborne!) must have been as much a relief for those in the club’s hierarchy as it was for us supporters.

Constantly barracked and ridiculed over the past few months for the seemingly disastrous lack of transfer activity, Golbourne is only the second permanent signing for the senior squad in 18 months since we embarked on our hugely successful League One title-winning campaign.

Plenty of loans have been tried in the meantime, but only Jonathan Kodjia’s bolt-from-the-blue signing from Angers in the summer has caused the editors on Wikipedia to move a player's full time club to Bristol City in that time.

Any fan over the age of 17/18 or so will fleetingly remember Golbourne, of course, as he spent his formative years with us but his opportunities were limited at that stage so I knew little about him, other than he’s looked like a pretty solid looking traditional full-back in the games I’ve seen him in since.

His family are City fans, and he’s already talked about “us” in his interviews, and its great to have another local lad, albeit one that went away to pursue his dreams, back on board.

I spoke to Thomas, from WolvesBlog.com, who had these generous words about our new signing:

“First important thing to say is I'm gutted Scott Golbourne is leaving and I think the majority of Wolves supporters feel the same. That's always a pretty good sign you've secured a decent player.

His greatest strength is that he can actually play football. That sounds stupid but for a full-back operating in tight spaces and seeing a lot of the ball, you've got to have great touch, dribbling skills and the ability to thread passes.
Many don't but he does all of that stuff very well and can also put decent deliveries into the box. I wouldn't say he's rapid but you certainly don't see a lot of wingers skinning him and he's got enough pace to get up and down to good effect.
He's been a pretty consistent presence at left-back for Wolves over the last two and a half years, but fallen out of favour lately for some reason. There was talk of a contract dispute which might have hastened his exit and explains the ridiculously low price tag.
I also believe Kenny Jackett thinks he's not up to the physical demands of the Championship, which might have some merit. I think he's been targeted with those long diagonal balls a few times, but he's never been a weak link as far as I'm concerned.
I'm surprised you've got him being brutally honest (only because of your league position) but it looks like you'll pay the wages and it is his home town club so that may have held sway.
He's a very good, consistent player and he'll do a great job, so good luck to him. We wish him well.”
My thanks to Thomas, who can be followed on Twitter here.
Promising indeed. Let’s hope he can establish himself in the way the left-sided players of his youth did. If he can become half as big a favourite as Brian Tinnion or Mickey Bell at Ashton Gate, he’ll have done a decent job.
Welcome home, Scott. You're one of our own.


The Exiled Robin

Lee Tomlin: A Posh view on our controversial new signing!

Just when City’s attempted activities in this transfer window appeared to be heading towards a similarly disastrous outcome as the summer’s opportunity, then the signing on loan of ex-Peterborough forward Lee Tomlin from Bournemouth certainly ignited some excitement into proceedings.

Warmly welcomed almost universally, the temperamental character who tends to play just off a main striker, joins with a point to prove having been given little chance on the South Coast during the Cherries’ hugely impressive start to life in the big time.

He is somewhat notorious to the Ashton Gate faithful already, of course, having been sent off in the opening quarter of an hour in a game against ‘The Posh’ during Derek McInnes’ time in charge, for an elbow on Greg Cunningham. We went on to win 4-2 against a tiring ten-man side, and it’s not the first, and probably won’t be the last time that Tomlin’s fiery nature causes him problems on the pitch. 

However, despite a far from spotless disciplinary record – he received six red cards in four seasons whilst at London Road, but then went a whole season without one for the first time on Teesside – Tomlin has continued to rise through the leagues, ending up in the top flight with Bournemouth after a successful season with Middlesbrough last time out.

Posh fanatic Jamie Jones has written for this blog many times before and I’m grateful to him yet again for these thoughts on a player who is sure to be amongst the most-discussed player in the squad in the coming months!

"One thing is for sure – life with Lee Tomlin around isn’t dull!

One minute he can have you up on your feet singing his name, convinced that he is that special player that can put right all that is wrong with your team, and the next you can find yourself slumped in your seat as he trundles off the pitch, ranting, whilst the ref brandishes the red card and his team-mates shake their heads in a collective “why did he do that?!?!

On his day, Tomlin has the skill, spirit, will to win and goals to fire City to safety in the Championship. When he is on his game, he can take any match by the scruff of the neck. You know that scene in Teenwolf,  where Chubby and the gang sit around on the court eating and chatting whilst Michael J Fox scores all the points and wins the march, well that’s Tomlin and his team-mates on a good day. 

When it’s good it’s brilliant but when it’s bad, it’s bloody awful.  He has more vision than any player I’ve ever seen play at London Road, he can spot a pass or a run that other players simply can’t. His best times at Posh were with a really mobile, busy centre forward (CMS, Dwight Gayle) in front of him, with Tomlin dropping into space and roaming around looking for the ball and chances to create. When any City player gets the ball, he will be demanding they pass to him and usually that is the best option.

Don’t expect him to chase back or run after a loose ball because before it has even got out of play he will be turning around to scream abuse at the team-mate that failed to ping the ball into his feet. His temper was legendary at London Road with 6 red cards in just 135 appearances for the club. I note that he didn’t get sent off whilst at M’Boro and didn’t get the chance to at Bournemouth, but I suspect that inner anger at a misplaced pass or a poor refereeing decision still lurks within Lee.

You’ve got yourselves an outstanding talent, one that we know can score and create goals at this level and I sincerely hope he keeps City up (and thus send Franchise FC down!).

All the best for the rest of the season.”

My thanks to Jamie for his review – especially a fantastic Teenwolf reference!

Hopefully Tomlin can be exciting for mainly the right reasons. From what I’ve seen of him, he could help provide some power and intensity to the attack that perhaps the more subtle Luke Freeman doesn’t quite offer – neither approach is right or wrong, but it sure is good to have some options for those times games are drifting away.

If he can repeat his from for Boro at the tail end of last season, he’ll certainly be a valuable asset for us in our survival fight and could well be the catalyst required to get us out of trouble.

Welcome to Ashton Gate, Lee. Keep away from those red cards and become a hero!


PS For you music fans, teenagers of the 90’s or general cultural enthusiasts(!) Jamie has written a new book entitled, "I Blame Morrissey", which features tales of football and indie music in the 1990s and is available via Amazon. 

The Exiled Robin

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Alex Pearce: What does he bring to Ashton Gate?

The prospect of raiding the under 14’s for squad members seemed  to finally jolt City into transfer action this week, as they swooped for the double loan signing of Derby County centre-half, Alex Pearce, and QPR’s ex-Swindon attacking midfielder, Ben Gladwin.
To say caretaker boss John Pemberton moved quickly is perhaps masking the truth somewhat as I have it on very good authority that the Pearce signing in particular was lined up by Cotterill for last Friday morning, only to be delayed following his dismissal the evening before.
We all saw what Gladwin could do last season, in the games against us in particular, but also in Swindon’s other televised games during the run-in. His challenge is two-fold; to prove that the great run of form at the end of the season wasn’t a flash in the pan, and, if it wasn’t, to prove he’s got the intelligence, pace and ability to show it at Championship level.
With Alex Pearce, however, our experience is probably more limited, aside from remembering he was pretty decent for Reading a few years back, so I caught up with Dan from The Tilehurst End (@TheTilehurstEnd) to gain a better understanding of the type of signing we’ve made to see us through until the end of the season.
Firstly, what type of player and character are we getting in Alex Pearce?
What's you're getting is a very solid, unspectacular but honest defender. Pearce knows what he's good at and sticks to that formula, he'll clear his lines, make a simple pass and heads the ball away well under pressure.
What you won't be getting is a cultured defender that you should expect to see majestic cross-field passes or marauding runs from. He's not blessed with great pace or agility yet he's not slow and lumbering either.
Overall he's your prototypical 7/10 defender.
He was your player of the season in your Championship winning squad a few years ago, and was a regular until his move to Derby County in the summer. Are you surprised he hasn't established himself there?
Yes and no. I think Derby have a pretty solid defence and it was always going to take a major injury or suspension for Alex to break in over there. Managers rarely like to break up a settled defensive unit and, with Derby doing so well, Pearce has been a bit unlucky, especially with them being dumped out of the League Cup early on, limiting his opportunity to impress.
What are his main attributes?
As I mentioned, he's no nonsense and what you see is what you get. He's good in the air at both ends of the pitch and pretty strong in the tackle as well. His positioning and reading of the game is also pretty good while he's not afraid to dig out a team mate if they're not performing.
And his weaknesses?
Sadly Alex has always lacked the little bit of extra quality to make it at the very highest level. He's struggled when asked by managers like Brendan Rodgers to play a more possession-based game while he's also been exposed by a lack of pace when up against more nimble forwards. There's also a sneaking suspicion that he needs an established defender beside him to really thrive as he's not coped well when placed in inexperienced or shaky defensive units.
His confidence at Reading never really recovered from a messy contract dispute during the 2012/13 Premier League season and some fans never forgave him for what they saw as a lack of loyalty - yet how much of that was really down to Pearce we'll never know.
What's your favourite memory of him during his time with Reading?
I mentioned his lack of technical prowess but this stepover at Doncaster was so out of the blue it was brilliant (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v383IqbZXb0)! He also scored a fair few goals during our Championship winning season a few years back and as you mentioned took our Players of the Season honours.
And finally, can you give us any facts, unusual or not about him that we might not know?
He's represented both Scotland and the Republic of Ireland at International level despite being born in the Oxford area! He was also dubbed 'the next John Terry' by Brendan Rodgers and while he's never quite reached those heights on the pitch, thankfully off it he's been much more well behaved, gaining a reputation for being a ruddy nice bloke!
Personally I wish him all the very best.
If you're interested in reading a bit more about Pearcey during his time at Reading I'll point you towards a couple of articles I put together on TTE over the years!
My thanks to Dan for this insight – in Pearce, Aden Flint and Nathan Baker we now look to have three pretty similar options in the middle. Extra height is always a good option, but it will be interesting to see how Pemberton starts to use him – perhaps he  sees it as a way to get back to the now-dreaded three at the back with extra solidity?
Regardless of formation plans, it's good to have extra cover anywhere in the squad at present - hopefully Pearce and Gladwin are just the first of half-a-dozen signings to come in and bolster the forces and ensure our Championship survival.

The Exiled Robin

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Why Cotterill was sacked

In the end, it was very sudden. 

In a season where pressure has increasingly grown on Steve Cotterill for all sorts of reasons, an unknown combination of a lacklustre, exhausted-looking performance at home to Preston, an unsavoury altercation with an abusive ‘supporter’ at the end of that game, or perhaps a behind-the-scenes disagreement over transfer policy look to have ultimately curtailed his time at Ashton Gate.

No manager these days can win just four out of 28 games in a season, be in the bottom three, and expect to be impervious to the threat of being sacked. But given such an incredulous level of success last season, Cotterill was surely closer than most to having a level of credit in the bank to be given until the end of the season?

I share views with many as a general principle where I wish all clubs would give mangers more time to build, but the days of giving a manager the luxury of years of under-achievement, of the type Alex Ferguson enjoyed, resulting in a dynasty of success, look to be consigned to history.

When Cotterill was appointed, I, along with many, was concerned. There were rumours and comments from fans of former clubs of an abrasive nature, of making repetitive excuses for defeats, of being overly self-centred, stubbornness, limited tactical awareness, limited ability to change the game, of a real lack of interest in the youth teams/academy and of direct, attritional football.

If you’re looking for reasons as to why he was ultimately sacked, the last point was perhaps the only one Cotterill truly put to bed this season. The players he picked every week still seemed to be playing for him in the main – I don’t think many would argue he had lost the dressing room – but on Tuesday night they didn’t look any worse than Preston, they just looked absolutely shattered. Physically and mentally.

As alluded to in recent posts, Cotterill’s refusal to change the line up or make substitutions early enough in games has surely culminated in a set of players who may not fully recover full freshness until their rest during the summer. Hopefully they’ve got enough left in them to scrape our way out of trouble and then we can go again.

Keeping the same XI worked fabulously well last year, when we had momentum and an overall quality of player far too good for League One. However, it hasn’t worked this season yet Cotterill has consistently seemed to be trying to prove that old Einstein adage about the definition of insanity correct – trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I’m not a big believer that any given formation does or doesn’t work. So much more goes into a game, not least the ability of the players available, their fitness levels, the chosen approach and an element of luck, but what was clear was that sides had worked out how to play our 3-5-2 formation, with these particular players and the way they played, and manipulated it to score goals. Everyone now knows if you push wide players forward, they had acres of space to run in behind our marauding full-backs. That leads the centre-halves to stretch themselves across the pitch to cover, meaning there was often only one defender in the middle when balls eventually found their way into the danger areas. I could see it, thousands of others could, why couldn’t Cotterill?

Even to the end, he was trying to create a myth that he had no option on selection, that the 11 available were the only ones he could possibly play. Following the Preston defeat he said he “had no choice” but to keep the same team or we’d have lost at West Brom.

That’s a choice Simon Grayson made. He lost his cup tie, but won a crucial three points in the league a few days later. Cotterill had choices, although admittedly limited. He chose not to make them, time and time again.

Stubborness, perhaps, or simply an outlook too limited in its view prevailed over decisions any other manager would surely have made. How can the likes of Bobby Reid, Wes Burns, Callum Robinson, Simon Cox, Liam Moore etc prove themselves worthy of a chance if not given more than a couple of minutes on the pitch? And even then, why would they bust a gut when they eventually get on if they know it’s not going to make one jot of difference to the next team selection?

Linked to this particular misjudgement is Cotterill’s approach to all things youth. I don’t doubt for a second he’ll spend the next ten years talking about the young team he took to the title, about how he gave the likes of Joe Bryan, Reid and Burns opportunities in a great team. He’d have a point, to an extent, but that’s how Cotterill hides his deficiencies, by bringing out singular examples to answer any misgivings. He has previously mentioned about how he brought through Patrick Bamford at Forest. The truth is he consistently ignored his option, but used him as a substitute late in the game on a couple of occasions and talks as if he gave him his big break.

In the main he has completely ignored the much-vaunted Academy and of all my beefs with the chap, the failure to promote an under 21 squad member to the bench on occasions we’ve only named six substitutes is simply outrageous.

When it happened again at West Brom last weekend I couldn’t restrain and tweeted Jon Lansdown to ask if he felt that it was appropriate behaviour, given everything we’re supposedly trying to achieve with our academy set-up. Of course a Joe Morrell, or another young player, probably wouldn’t have got on the pitch, but what an experience travelling up would have been, warming up on the pitch, of seeing a Premier League stadium packed with over 5,300 City fans, of hearing your name cheered when the line ups were read out. But no, Cotterill had to prove what in my view was a childish and petty point to the Board by leaving the space spare. If you’re thinking about defending that particular decision, just think what sort of message that sends a youngster at our club, or indeed any  youngster even considering joining us.  You’re not good enough. Not now, probably never. That’s what I’d be thinking.

In recent weeks I’ve heard from a reliable source that some of our top youngsters, right down to under 14 level, are considering leaving the club because they see no future, no path to the first team squad. The same person told me he’d never seen Cotterill at any under age games, and that everything from under 21’s down “felt like a different set-up”, lacking the support from the main club.

The one line of note in Keith Dawe’s official statement on the website was that the club had a need to “achieve its overall strategy for player development”. I read that directly as building the club at all levels, including the Academy, and this could well be what eradicated the credit he had left in the bank with the key decision maker.

For those who think it’s a crazy decision to dispose of the manager, those who were backing Cotterill I totally understand why. Personally I had a number of issues with him which I’m outlining here, but I still hadn’t quite reached that tipping point in wanting him gone because of everything he gave us last season.

Ultimately however, just for a second, forget everything that happened pre mid-May 2015. Exactly what has Cotterill done in that period since to prove he was the right man for the job? What signings has he made (I accept there’s the whole other discussion there!), what tactics has he used to change games or change a trend of results? How has he mixed up the team to try something different? What substitutions has he made to have an effect on games?

Interestingly on the last point, I can remember two specific examples of games where I can recall him making substitutions earlier than the 85th minute. Leeds at home and West Brom away. Look what happened. So why did he not even seem to consider that as an option on so many occasions?

For everything that happened on the pitch, it’s impossible to address this situation without looking at what has – or more pertinently hasn’t – happened off the pitch in the last 12 months.

I don’t think we’ll ever know why signings weren’t made, aside from the headline few who were realistically never going to come. From what I’ve heard on that, I don’t buy into this “Lansdown won’t stump up the wages” argument.  It seems as if the four headliners we failed to land barely even spoke to us, if at all. Why would you come to a newly promoted somewhat provincial club when Palace, Burnley, Hull and Manchester United in Lingard’s case, were the alternative option?
Something I believe, from all available evidence, is that Cotterill set his sights too high and never quite worked out how to realign. Fans have talked all summer and season about the likes of Bradshaw, Dack, Washington, Byrne, Roofe and others, without the slightest indication we’re closely watching any of them.

Was Cotterill really so na├»ve in chasing the stars he forgot to build up his squad beneath? Or did he present a long list that whoever is responsible for progressing forgot about or was unable to act upon. 

We’ll probably never know.

Some argue that Freeman, Bryan and, to a lesser extent, Flint were amongst the stars of last year’s League One campaign who haven’t made the step up as expected, so why go after more players from that level. Maybe they still will, but that’s not to say any of those others listed might not have done. To argue that is to suggest there’ll never be another Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli and, dare I say, Rickie Lambert rising from the lower leagues. Some make it, others don’t. Perhaps we’ve got unlucky with some of ours, maybe they’re just taking longer to adjust, but I struggle to believe it wouldn’t have been a good £3-4m investment on fees and wages to snap up Bradshaw and Dack as squad options at the very least.

It seems as if the lack of a Plan B is a constant theme of Cotterill’s management.

Just to be clear, I do not believe Steve Lansdown prefers being a big fish in League One as opposed to being in the Championship. He doesn’t focus more on the rugby than the football. He has backed this club to the hilt over the past decade and if he has a financial ceiling in place, then so he bloody well should!

Last time we were at this level we spent a small fortune to get progressively worse. Shouldn’t we have a certain level of agreed spending? By a crude set of assumptions you can venture that we pay a higher average wage than at least seven other clubs in this league, possibly more. If we had 25 players instead of 17, I’m sure our total wage bill would be somewhere around halfway – appropriate for our relative wealth, ambition and size, in my view.

Build slowly and surely, advancing each year and the impossible becomes more real. We’ve tried the ‘chuck a load of money at it’ method without success. Derby and Middlesboro have spent years establishing themselves before having a splurge to return to the Premier League. Ipswich are the model of consolidation, and each year get closer to being the finished article. Wolves, Brighton, Forest, Birmingham have hardly spent tens of millions to build a solid, competitive team. What’s so wrong with that approach? To chuck accusations around about our lack of ambition is disingenuous at best.

Given the transfer window limitations, there will obviously be questions over the timing of the decision to sack Cotterill, especially given the lack of an obvious replacement lined up. It is a little strange but ultimately our manager’s future seems to rest on his relationship with Steve Lansdown and the perception of the club publically. Lansdown puts great store by having a positive public perception of the whole Sport group and Cotterill’s tirade at the end of the Preston game – whatever the provocation – must have raised eyebrows. Add to that his constant bleating over lack of support in the transfer market/wage budget (when Lansdown himself has come out and said we haven’t been rejected by anyone due to finances) and you can start to see the relationship may well have been unravelling for some time. Cotterill’s “I’ve never had a golden bullet” whinge/comment turned a fair few fans who felt he was being disrespectful considering last year we must have had one of the top two budgets in the division.

Lansdown is a hugely successful commercial operator and undoubtedly has one eye on next season’s season-ticket sales. If he felt a significant shift in supporter opinion, that would be enough on its own to push him into action. He has spent £50m on the stadium, at least the same again in bankrolling the squad and he hasn’t done that to sit comfortably in League One. He was almost embarrassed at last year’s celebrations, constantly reminding everyone that we shouldn’t have really been there anyway. 

He isn’t building hospitality boxes and a 27,000-seater stadium for the rugby – they’re unlikely to fill it on more than a rare special occasion – everything is being done to make Bristol City, not Bristol Sport, more successful. If the Sport concept is successful, it will help City, make no bones about that.

So who’s next? Last time Jon Lansdown promised to scour the market and do all “due diligence” to make sure they got the right man. They spoke to one person and appointed him, so it’ll be interesting to see the approach this time.

In my view you’ve got to really question, with just a couple of weeks left of the transfer window, would many do a significantly better job than John Pemberton and Wade Elliott? They know the squad, its capability and they surely are acutely aware of what’s missing. They both have contacts within the game they could utilise for the holes that need filling and the existing players, presumably, respect them as they did Cotterill. As long as they’re prepared to bring their own ideas to proceedings and add a few bodies, why not give them until the summer to keep us up, then look for the longer-term option when we’d be a significantly more attractive proposition?

Whilst this may well have seemed like a character assassination at times, it wasn’t intended as that. By trying to cover all possible bases I may have revealed all of my views on Cotterill’s faults, failings and character traits, but he has without question left the club in a far better position than he found it and that, ultimately, is the measure of success in any job, isn’t it?

He also gave us the most successful, enjoyable season I’ve seen in over 30 years of supporting City.

For saving us from League Two

For Bramall Lane.

For being unbeaten until November

For Gillingham away

For Wembley!

For Flint, Freeman and Korey Smith.

For Swindon at home.

For the last day of the season against Walsall and for that wonderful, magical, still quite unbelievable night in Bradford.

Thanks for the memories, Steve, it’s been a blast! 

The Exiled Robin

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