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Opposition Preview - Bristol City (Home)
Written by ad_wilkin on Monday, 4th Mar 2024 10:10

It’s a tough Tuesday night fixture that’s squeezed in between two long away day trips as Town face Bristol City.

The Blues come into the game looking to make it six wins in a row for the first time this season having dispatched Plymouth 2-0 at the weekend, whereas the Robins are looking to recover from three defeats on the bounce having been beaten 1-0 at home by Town’s next opponents Cardiff at the weekend.

Previous Fixture (Bristol City 0 – 1 Ipswich Town)

It was a hard fought 1-0 win at Ashton Gate back in October as an early Nathan Broadhead goal opened the scoring before Town had to be controlled and effective to hold onto their lead.

Bristol City started brightly with Sam Bell cutting in from the right and finding Vaclav Hladky’s arms with a long-range shot. It was the home side who created the next big chance as well, despite Town having had a couple of half-chances, when Mark Sykes got down the right and drifted a cross onto the head of Tommy Conway in the middle. The Bristol City man was unable to get any power on his header and once again Hladky claimed with ease.

On ten minutes, Town had their first shot on target, Broadhead with excellent ball control finding Kayden Jackson out on the right. Jackson cut the ball back to Conor Chaplin on the edge of the area, who fired an effort that was easy for City keeper Max O’Leary to gather.

Ipswich were slowly getting a foothold in the game. From a Brandon Williams throw, Chaplin, George Hirst and Massimo Luongo linked up and the latter hit a left foot curler from outside the box which O’Leary tipped round the post.

Town made the breakthrough on 15 minutes, Luongo with a lovely outside-of-the-boot ball into Hirst who, facing away from goal, laid it off to Broadhead. The Welshman took two touches into the box and rifled a long-range effort under O’Leary. It was a strong strike but the City keeper won’t want to watch that one back again.

Cameron Pring had an effort tipped over for the Robins before Jackson threatened again for the third or fourth time down the right with no real end product.

Hirst was played in over the top but was unable to find the target, Sam Morsy smashed a long range effort off the post and Leif Davis had a free-kick deflected just over as Town finished the first half firmly in the ascendency.

The second half was a much quieter affair with the first action of note in the 60th minute as Morsy gave away a free-kick just on the edge of the area. Conway drilled it in through the bodies, but Hladky was one again able to get behind the ball and bring it in to his chest.

Town then had an opportunity of their own, Chaplin drifting out wide and drilling a ball across the box that Broadhead was only inches away from at the far post.

Williams was then the hero not once but twice, first getting in to block away a ball that hand been crossed into the box and then to clear off the line as Hladky was finally beaten by Harry Cornick’s effort, which came off the inside of the post and dribbled along the line before Williams’s timely interception got it away.

Town were then under a sustained spell of Bristol City pressure but defended excellently to prevent them creating any more clear-cut chances and came away with another valuable three points in the bag.

It wasn’t the prettiest win with City having the better chances, but Town still managed to have 20 shots in the game and were clinical when it mattered.

What’s Changed?

Surprise surprise, it’s the manager. There have been 16 managerial changes so far this season and it feels like I'm writing about a new manager in the dugout for every one of these blogs.

Nigel Pearson was the sixth of these changes this season and the first meeting of these sides proved to be his penultimate game with the Robins moving to take Liam Manning away from Oxford United not long after.

Manning has done a solid if unspectacular job so far and has the Robins 12th in the table, sitting firmly away from relegation but also not really threatening the play-off contenders. For a side that finished 14th last season, a top half finish will be seen as progress.

Manning will be a familiar name for many who follow Ipswich having been part of the club both in his playing and coaching career. He failed to make a first-team appearance for Town but turned out for a number of local sides including Bishops Stortford, Long Melford, Leiston and Woodbridge Town. He then has a spell coaching Town’s academy at the beginning of his coaching career before time at West Ham and NYC FC in New York.

His first-team managerial (or head coach) career started over in Belgium with second-tier side Lommel SK. They were a bottom of the table side when he took over but he led them to third place before leaving to join MK Dons and oversee one of their most successful periods, leading them to a third-place League One finish on 89 points but losing out to Wycombe Wanderers in the play-off semi-finals. The next season didn’t start as well and he was sacked in December 2022.

He landed on his feet, taking over Oxford United in March 2023 and he had them challenging for promotion following a very strong start before Bristol City came and poached him.

He’s a talented coach and, bar the MK Dons sacking, has had very little failure on his CV. His win percentages at the clubs he’s been at have all been in the high 40%s and he’s got a reputation of developing young talent so seems to have been a very shrewd appointment for Bristol City so far.

The January window was a fairly quiet one for Bristol City who are focusing on bring through young talents rather than spending big money.

They made Taylor Gardner Hickman’s loan move from West Brom permanent with Andreas Weimann moving the other way on loan and supplemented the squad with a couple of loans.

The most notable of those was Scott Twine who has had success under Manning previously when the two were together at MK Dons. Twine was on loan at Hull City for the first half of the season but with a raft of loans coming in for the Tigers in January, was moved on to somewhere he was likely to get more game time.

It’s hard to judge his spell at City so far. He made his debut against Watford and was the key man with a headed goal and seven key passes to his name before suffering a quad injury that has kept him out of the following games. He was back on the bench against QPR but was missing again against Cardiff.

The other loan signing they made was Adedire Mebude from KVC Westerlo. On paper it looks like a bit of a strange one with the 19 year-old having only made three appearances for the Belgian side this season but the former Manchester City youngster is clearly seen as one for the future and Manning looks set to slowly integrate him into his side as he claims he is one of the best under 21 wingers in the world.

He scored 12 goals and got 14 assists for Manchester City U23s in 33 appearances and looks to be a similar profile to Omari Hutchinson in that he can play on either wing, has plenty of pace, excellent ball control and a few tricks and flicks.

He’s only played 36 minutes off the bench so far as he gets up to speed with Bristol City’s system but he could really catch fire once he gets up and running.

Key Players

Tommy Conway

Tommy Conway announced himself to Bristol City fans with a double off the bench against Rotherham in October. He has gone on to score another four goals, three of which have been from the spot.

Although naturally a winger, City’s lack of options up front have seen him play as a false nine in a lot of games this season, having been preferred to Nahki Wells and Harry Cornick ,but with Sam Bell suffering a season-ending injury he could drop deeper for more games towards the end of the season

Rob Dickie

When Town visited Ashton Gate in October Bristol City were going through a defensive injury crisis. The one defender who was fit in that game was Rob Dickie and he has started 31 of the Robins 35 games this season providing a solid foundation winning 62% of his duels and also chipping at the other end in with four goals.

He’s been involved in six of Bristol City’s seven clean sheets and is a vital cog in their defensive efforts.

The Teams

A controlled performance against Plymouth with everyone putting in solid performances means that any rotation will be down to fitness and freshness rather than form.

With only 11 games to go, the number one spot is surely now Hladky’s until the end of the season. The Luke Woolfenden and Cameron Burgess pairing as long as they’re both fit is also likely to stay.

Davis doesn’t get dropped as his fitness is next level, which leaves us with the right-back question again. Axel Tuanzebe was again excellently defensively and it’s his position to lose now. The only question mark would be around whether he can start back-to-back Saturday –Tuesdays, something that he’s not done all season.

With Luongo missing the Plymouth game ill, it seems likely that he probably won’t be risked for this one either. It’s a slightly different midfield set-up when Lewis Travis is in there with his last-minute addition on Saturday meaning he played the left sided role rather than the right.

The other option is Jack Taylor who was fit enough to make the bench. If he was fully fit and up to speed this would be the ideal game to bring him into but because of his injury issues recently I think Morsy and Travis will continue to work on their partnership.

In the forward areas both Wes Burns and Broadhead are likely to still be out, but I think there will be some rotation in forward areas to keep things fresh.

Marcus Harness is the most likely to come in and I think he’ll replace Jeremy Sarmiento with Chaplin and Hutchinson keeping their places and Kieffer Moore leading the line ahead of them.

For Bristol City, Max O’Leary has been number one all season and a settled centre-half pairing of Zak Vyner and Dickie has been found after injury issues early on in the season.

With games coming thick and fast Manning has regularly rotated his full-backs with George Tanner and Pring set to start this one if the rotation continues.

Matty James and Twine both missed the Cardiff game with injury and could be out for this one and Bell is out until the end of the season as City’s injury issues have moved from defence further forward.

That means two of Andy King, Joe Williams and Gardner-Hickman are likely to play in midfield. Gardner-Hickman's energy might edge out the experience of King in this one.

At the top end of the pitch, Wells started against Cardiff and Conway started the game before. Wells offers more of a natural striking role but with this one being seen as a bit of a free hit I can see Conway starting up top.

Behind him, Jason Knight has been in good form with a goal against Sheffield Wednesday, so should start in the number ten role and I’m going for Sykes on the left and a first start for Adedire Mebude on the right.

Action Areas

Manning is a possession-based manager. He took over from Russell Martin at MK Dons and got his sides seamlessly playing that brand at football and will no doubt eventually look to transition Bristol City to that style, but he is also very adept at finding the best style and formation for the players at his disposal.

Interestingly City have won four out of the five games that they’ve had the least possession and only won one out of the seven they’ve had the most.

They’ve also had the majority of the ball in their last three games and lost all of them, yet beat Southampton and Middlesbrough with far less of the ball. This hints that they could well set out to be hard to beat at Portman Road and hit the Blues on the counter with pace on the wings.

That’s why I think Mebude could start as he provides that livewire wildcard dribbling ability and could make something happen down that side. Their goals so far have been shared between their forward players with Sykes and Knight on seven apiece, Conway on six and Bell, Dickie and Gardener-Hickman on five, so there’s not one main threat to look after. Town will need to be aware of the rotation and interplay between all of City’s front players.

Looking at it the other way, the Robins are also a very solid team defensively. They have a high number of tackles ranking seventh in the league currently with a lot of those being in their defensive third. It could well take a moment of magic to unlock the door or possibly even the brute force of Moore.

Again, despite league positions, this has all of the makings of another tricky encounter. It could take a set piece or a moment on quality to break a stubborn defence.

Keeping it tight and not giving Bristol City something to hold onto will be key. Fortunately, Town seem to love playing under the lights and have put in some high-quality midweek performances this season. They’re also adept at producing those winning moments.

It won’t be a rout but I'm going for a 1-0 win. Town are yet to score a direct free-kick this season, could this be the game to do it?

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