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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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