The Bristol City Rollercoaster Seems to Be Reappearing, Hold Tight! - Notes for Bristol City
Monday, 11th Mar 2019 11:30 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Tuesday night’s game at Ashton Gate by delving into their forums.
“We seem to have run out of steam again, although unlike last season we can’t just put it down to injuries”, “Forget about the play-offs, we’re not good enough”, “It just doesn’t feel like the crunch time of the season, it feels like we’re coasting”, “It’s like Groundhog Day with Bristol City at times.”
The Robins head into Tuesday’s game seventh in the table with a game in hand on Frank Lampard’s sixth-placed Rams, but a five-game winless run has put many fans on edge. Their next two games are against promotion rivals Sheffield United and Boro, so a win over us is seen as vital to stop the rot.
“The Leeds game was a massive reality check.” City’s nervy November win over us at Portman Road was the prelude to a 15-game unbeaten run which also included nine straight victories, but many fans see the team as an overachieving mid-table outfit without any really serious promotion designs.
“If we somehow arrived in the Premier League, we would almost certainly we one season wonders. It needs to be a season or two at this level before we are fully ready”, “If we are fortunate to get to the play-offs it will be a bit of fun but, come on, we are no way the third best team in this league”,
“Leeds showed us today how big the gap is”, “Always the bridesmaid, we showed Leeds too much respect”, “Losing to Leeds is not a tragedy but our recent form, with one point from four matches, is not encouraging. We probably are not ready for a play-off challenge yet but let’s see what happens.”
“I think everyone is just worried that an implosion is coming. There’s no particular logic to this worry other than it has happened several times over the last few seasons”, “Our long run started with a tight win at the league’s whipping boys Ipswich. We need to be on it for every game or we will lose.”
“It looks like we are going on one of Lee Johnson’s losing streaks. It’s a question of how long it lasts”, “With him in charge, we will win 10 and then lose 10. His consistency over a season is just shocking”, “Some are happy as we won’t get relegated, but I’m annoyed as promotion won’t happen with him.”
“Streaky Lee could be back.” The 37-year-old took over the relegation-threatened side after leaving Barnsley in February 2016 and steered the Robins to safety. They struggled in his first full season in charge in 2016/17 but finished mid-table last term and reached the semi-finals of the League Cup.
His habit of regular winning and losing streaks irritates many fans, but others point to his record of consistent improvement. “This club in Johnson is progressing up the table year-on-year, despite not having the financial clout of many”, “We’re on course for five seasons of consecutive improvement.”
“Appointing Johnson has worked out exceptionally well in just about every aspect of the decision the owners took and what is required of someone in that position. We would find it very difficult, should he leave, to find the type of replacement who would tick all the boxes and build for the long term.”
“Unless we are heading towards League One and the fans turn on him, he will be here for years. We have a long-term plan with continual sustainability and gradual progress. The club has come a long way in the few years he has been with us. He needs time to build and get his team to play his way.”
Solid and Simple Football
“We are winning games on clean sheets, but don’t look like we have the firepower to win games 3-2.” Most Robins agree that their mid-season resurgence was built on solid defending rather than any ability to outscore opponents. “We need now to get back to being hard to beat in order to progress.”
“We get some momentum by playing solid and simple football as a team that is more than the sum of its individual parts. We get overconfident and start to play too expansively, losing our shape. We get thumped, lose confidence and go into a spiral before deciding to regroup and regain our shape.”
“We have plenty of good options in defence but are toothless in attack”, “There is no chance we will go up until we get a proper goalscorer into the club. We have no threat up front in big games”, “Our forward movement is okay until the ball reaches the box but the final touch is poor or non-existent.”
“The midfield looks lightweight to me.” Leeds and Birmingham targeted the Robins’ midfield in their recent wins by pressing with urgency, turning possession over and stifling any rhythm or momentum at source. “Other midfielders look stronger, quicker and are picking up almost all the loose balls.”
“We lack a finisher with Championship experience and a midfield general. It should have been sorted ages ago and we are going nowhere until it is”, “We don’t have a constructive deep-lying playmaker. We use our centre-backs as playmakers, exposing ourselves and leaving us toothless going forward.”
Johnson’s decision to start Antoine Semenyo against Leeds (above) was an eye-catching choice and well-received by Robins. The teenager made his debut coming off the bench in the previous game at Preston and was praised for supporting Famara Diedhiou, who has struggled in the lone striker role.
The mood changed when the team lined up. “It was a very poor decision to start Semenyo on the left wing instead of up top with Diedhiou”, “Trying to shoehorn Semenyo in totally unbalanced the shape. The players didn’t look like they knew the game plan and couldn’t string passes together.”
Most Robins believe that their defence is play-off standard and their problems lie elsewhere. Third-choice keeper Max O’Leary has been solid in the last two games after replacing Niki Maenpaa during the side’s recent draw at Preston. First-choice Frank Fielding is out for the season with a hand injury.
The partnership of ball-playing centre-backs Tomas Kalas and Adam Webster has grown this season, but both full-back roles have been problematic. Lloyd Kelly is a better all-round left-back than the lightweight Jay Dasilva but always seems capable of at least one serious blunder in every game.
Jack Hunt is widely regarded as their strongest right-back but he has struggled for fitness, as has his stand-in Eros Pisano. Johnson started centre-back Bailey Wright on the right of the back four against Leeds where he was able to add some solidity. Centre-half Nathan Baker is currently a bench option.
“If we could add a couple of footballers to our central midfield, things will look bright”, “Our midfield was completely overrun by Leeds. We needed more presence there and didn’t really attack second balls. Communications errors in our midfield twice set Leeds on quick dangerous counter-attacks.”
With Korey Smith a long-term absentee with a knee injury, Marlon Pack is the only experienced pick for the holding role behind Josh Brownhill and Jamie Paterson. Several fans have questioned Pack’s lack of energy in recent games and wonder whether fitness or fatigue may be taking their toll.
“We have an overabundance of wingers but don’t use them.” Callum O’Dowda and Niclas Eliasson are City’s out-and-out wingers, but Johnson has used Andreas Weimann in a wide role. For many the decision to start Semenyo out wide against Leeds typified Johnson’s inability to structure an attack.
“The biggest problem is that we have no threat up front. We can pass the ball around all day, but if the final ball isn’t good enough or we have no forwards with quality, we aren’t going to score.” Matt Taylor or Kasey Palmer have often been used in a withdrawn role off the bench to support Diedhiou.
“We can’t handle pressure and are too inevitably cautious at the start of games”, “There really does seem to be an issue about the way we start games at Ashton Gate. It’s so odd to think we could miss out on the play-offs because of our home form”, “We always come out stronger in the second half.”
Bristol City 0 – 1 Leeds
“Why are we abysmal at home?”, “Leeds have been good and we have been shocking. We couldn’t even string two passes together”, “It was a scrappy game. Leeds weren’t great but they were always quicker to the second ball. There were long periods of the game where we couldn’t get a foot in.”
“Leeds are teaching us a lesson in fitness here.” Patrick Bamford’s conversion of former Robin Luke Ayling's knockdown from close range on nine minutes won the game for the visitors. Many watching fans felt that City couldn’t live with the high-pressing and intense industry of Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
“There are 1-0s where it is thin margins on the day. This was a 1-0 scoreline which hugely flattered us. We were second best pretty much all game”, “We couldn’t string any passes together moving forward and struggled to deal with their pressing”, “We were awful but Leeds did their homework.”
Preston 1 – 1 Bristol City
“That will do, a fair result”, “Not the greatest game, but I can’t be unhappy with a point at Preston at the moment”, “I’m sitting on the train back, and reflecting on a great battling performance against a form side”, “We had the upper hand after we scored. It’s a game we would have lost last season.”
Daniel Johnson side-footed the Lilywhites ahead on 42 after a clever freekick, but Famara Diedhiou hooked in a leveller from close range on 69 to end a run of three straight losses for City. Many City fans were happy with an away point at a traditional bogey side after a run of three straight losses.
“A draw was fair enough. It wasn’t a classic, but we returned to the shape and form of a month ago. We looked a better side after the break and had it in us to win the game”, “I was at the game and it was pretty much what I expected beforehand, two teams of similar ability lacking any real quality.”
Keeper Maenpaa was in the starting XI (above) but was replaced by Max O’Leary on 65 with a knock. Left-back Lloyd Kelly was criticised for conceding the freekick which led to Preston’s opener, but the introduction of Semenyo for O’Dowda gave City “the strike partnership we have craved for so long”.
Bristol City 1 – 2 Birmingham
“Very disappointing but sadly ever so predictable”, “A really damaging defeat in terms of our morale and momentum”, “Birmingham executed their plan so well and looked more dangerous on the ball”, “It’s not the referee’s fault that we didn’t turn up for an hour”, “Deserved nothing and got nothing.”
On-loan Bournemouth winger Connor Mahoney put Birmingham with a heavily deflected shot on 42 and his freekick was headed home by Michael Morrison on 47 to double the visitors’ lead. Diedhiou pulled a goal back on 66 with a tap-in but the Robins couldn’t equalise despite their late pressure.
“Birmingham played well, disrupting our rhythm and countering with pace. They did their homework on us. Their striker Che Adams dropped into midfield when they didn’t have the ball, making it very congested”, “They caused us more problems than we caused them, and we couldn’t keep the ball.”
“A depressing evening.” The starting line-up (above) had Eros Pisano at right-back and Kasey Palmer replacing Jamie Paterson in an attacking midfield role. Fans felt that their set-up played straight into Birmingham’s counter-attacking game. “Our midfield players were continually giving the ball away.”
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“Max O’Leary did well earlier in the season when he was needed, give him some more minutes.” The 22-year-old youth product “has been solid with everything fired at him”, “He positioning is good and he tries to pass the ball out against Leeds. One jittery slice, but I don’t feel nervous with him in goal.”
“O’Leary is inexperienced but he let nobody down against Brentford and Hull earlier in the season. He looks a talent”, “He is better than the other keepers we have when distributing the ball, playing wedged and clipped balls into wide receivers”, “He’s a better all-round keeper than the other two.”
“Jack Hunt had really found his feet before he got his calf injury. He’s our best right-back.” The 28-year-old July signing from Sheffield Wednesday “had a real nightmare of a game at Preston. He was nowhere near match fit”, “He looked like somebody who hadn't played a full game for some time.”
“Hunt must come back in against Ipswich, at home he is our best right-back”, “He gets forward well and can defend superbly, making vital tackles”, “He’s the best right-footed crosser of a ball at the club”, “A full-back with pace and quality on the ball, he does so much running, and is a huge outlet.”
“Eros Pisano is a rounded right-back.” The 31-year-old ex-Verona man “offers us something at both ends of the pitch”, “A solid defender who can handle pace but he worries about wide runners”, “At Ipswich Freddie Sears scored by being shown inside, as Pisano was worried by the runner outside.”
“I am not happy with Lloyd Kelly playing. He’s a liability and an accident waiting to happen.” The 20-year-old youth product “has to really concentrate. He can’t afford to get caught in possession again and concede”, “As a defender, you can’t have a reputation of having an error in you in every game.”
Jack Lankester v Lloyd Kelly
“Kelly’s lapses have tended to come when we have not had so much defensively to do”, “You always have your heart in your mouth with him”, “Let’s hope he can get back his early season form”, “The maddening thing about him is that he plays so well until he does something daft and unnecessary.”
“Jay Dasilva has looked a little lightweight in recent games.” The 20-year-old Chelsea loanee “is a far better left-back than Kelly going forward”, “Birmingham clearly spotted that stopping him coming forward and pressuring him with two or sometimes three players would help stifle the whole team.”
“Dasilva did not break a sweat against Leeds and was lazy and far too casual”, “He gave Luke Ayling so much space to head across the box for their goal”, “He offers far more going forward than Kelly. He makes good decisions and is positionally astute, but he gives the ball away dangerously at times.”
“Bailey Wright is more solid defensively at right-back than Hunt or Pisano.” The 26-year-old Australia international and former Preston man “is less likely to gallivant halfway down the pitch. He’s great at clearing up any mess the defenders or midfielders might leave us in but he’s simply not a full-back.”
“I like Wright, he’s a decent defender but his position is at right-sided centre-back. He offers nothing going forward”, “He’s very good in defending and battling all game but his winger has no support. To be a passing side you need full backs that will go on the outside to create space for the wide men.”
“Tomas Kalas can certainly pass a ball.” The 25-year-old Chelsea loanee played on loan for Fulham in the last two seasons. “He is effective on the ball and should have a more licence to play out from the back than he currently does”, “His passing is simpler than Webster’s but is often equally effective.”
“Kalas is just immense, what a player. We should be doing everything we can to keep him”, “He’s the only man in the squad who would be capable of giving as good as he got”, “You can't really teach the traits he has. There's a reason he won promotion from this league and our back line is very secure.”
“How come Webster, a centre half, can make these great thrusting forward runs yet our midfielders can’t?” The 24-year-old summer signing from Town “breaks through systems by running through the middle with the ball and getting deep into their half. Things open up when he beats just one man.”
“Webster unusually was wasteful against Leeds”, “His final ball was off, but I'm not sure that the rest of the team made it easy for him. He didn’t have lots of options when he did bring it out”, “He’s such a gifted player on the ball. His partnership with Kalas is the top reason we are where we are today.”
“Josh Brownhill wins most battles, drives the team on and can pick a pass.” The 23-year-old former Lilywhite “likes to get into positions to drive forward with the ball and break the lines”, “He charges on from midfield and isn’t afraid to shoot”, “He has a decent strike but has looked very leggy lately.”
“Brownhill has been anonymous, he has now had a few quiet games which coincided with this poor run”, “His distribution and decision making have been disappointing. He’s burned out and this break can’t come quick enough”, “He needs a rest. His spark has gone and his mid-range passing is poor.”
“Kasey Palmer gives it away again.” The 23-year-old arrived on loan from Chelsea in January, having previously played on loan for Huddersfield in their 2016/17 promotion season. “He can flit between the central areas more readily than Paterson. He's a number 10 who has not fully integrated yet.”
“Palmer is a better footballer than Paterson but he doesn't have his pressing game. He's basically a better version of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas”, “We need to get him on the ball near the penalty area as it can be dangerous when he loses it in midfield”, “He always appeals for fouls when dispossessed.”
“Jamie Paterson has really upped his game since Palmer arrived.” The 27-year-old ex-Nottingham Forest man “has run into some great form lately. I was very disappointed that he didn’t start against Birmingham”, “He works his socks off and was the only one who tried to play like the Leeds players.”
“Paterson has to start”, “He set such an example when he came on against Birmingham playing with composure and patience when our midfield was harried”, “He tracks back and pressurises the ball”, “We know he is a confidence player, but he was out main creative outlet on our long unbeaten run.”
“Pack probably had one of his worst displays of the season against Leeds.” The 27-year-old former Cheltenham man “stands off players without challenging them and has been really sloppy with the ball. He gets caught out so often”, “He should sit in front of the defence. Keep it simple but quick.”
“Pack loses possession just inside our box and Birmingham score. There’s no excuse for it”, “He lacks that blood and thunder mentality in the middle of the park and his Hollywood balls achieve little”, “The bloke can’t run and any challenging passes usually don’t come off. I do wonder if he’s fully fit.”
Wingers and Wide Midfielders
“For the life of me I can't understand why Niclas Eliasson hasn't played when we have clearly needed him.” The 23-year-old ex-IFK Norrkoping winger “has played well and offers us creativity, goals and a spark. We need his balls into the box”, “He can have a field day against centre-backs out of position.”
“Eliasson can be a bit timid and I think that is why he has found himself on the bench as of late”, “He doesn’t embrace aggressive defences. He can be timid with people on him right away”, “He should play more as he must be one of the best crossers in the league and is now adding goals to his game.”
Jordan Spence of v Niclas Eliasson
“Callum O’Dowda scored a brilliant solo effort at Norwich a few weeks ago.” The 23-year-old former Oxford United man “really exploits spaces. His pace, power and energy are very dangerous coming in behind”, “He can run with the ball and create space and he likes to get beyond the last defender.”
“You know what you are getting with O’Dowda. He won’t back down from anyone”, “Sometimes he finds himself up top where he competes physically with defenders”, “He has been making mistakes lately. His recent form has been very good but he needs now to do it for the majority of the season.”
“I’m really not sure about Weimann right now.” The 27-year-old ex-Villa and Derby man “stretches opposition backlines with his tireless running and hard work but he has been very wasteful with his chances”, “He isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but he adds class and composure, and he links play well.”
Andreas Weimann (Derby County) v George Baldock (Sheffield United)
“We missed Weimann more than people realised against Leeds. He hasn’t chipped in with goals but does a lot of running and dragging away players, a lot of the thankless dirty work”, “He’s someone who can exploited the channels. He often makes great early runs that the other players don't spot.”
“Well done to Antoine Semenyo but let’s not put pressure on him.” The 19-year-old youth product was recalled from a loan spell at Newport in January. “He looked happy playing off the shoulder and dropping deep to run in his debut at Preston. He reminded me of Che Adams and he was a handful.”
“Semenyo looks ridiculously strong for his age, a positive skilful player who holds the ball up well”, “He looked so good alongside Diedhiou, it was strange play him on the left against Leeds”, “It was so odd given that Johnson said he was the best in the squad at holding the ball up with his back to goal.”
“Matty Taylor is always more effective from the bench than starting.” The 28-year-old former Bristol Rovers man makes frequent substitute appearances. “His movement is clever and he will chase back lines and stop them building from the back”, “He has never looked effective when starting games.”
“Taylor has such great movement and control and he plays off players better as well”, “He will never get 20 goals in the Championship”, “He’s a striker who virtually never shoots and has only scored a handful of goals at this level, but his link-up play and movement is so dangerous when he comes on.”
“Diedhiou is very trying all too often.” The 26-year-old former Angers striker “is so hit and miss. He has no concept of trying to lose his marker or get in front of him. He’s not great playing on his own up front with his back to goal”, “He has no first touch other than to knock it six feet in front of him.”
“Our useless striker has scored twice in a week”, “He has good reactions in the box and will pounce on loose balls, but often his great initial play is undone either by an extra touch or a terrible miss”, “He needs some cement in his cereal to harden him up”, “We have no other option if he loses form.”
Robins’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Bring on Ipswich on Tuesday. It’s likely to be a very different game to the Leeds one”, “Play like that against Ipswich and they are likely to get something, and probably by a bigger margin”, “They got a well-earned draw at the Baggies on Saturday so it won’t be easy but I fancy another three points.”
“We need to marmalise Ipswich in midweek. We have no game after that for two-and-a-half weeks so we need to go into that hiatus having arrested this latest poor run of results. Frankly, If we don’t beat the bottom side at home then we can kiss goodbye any chance of making the play-offs.”
“It all starts again with Ipswich on Tuesday. We need to be professional against them and give them a good hiding.” There have been the by now familiar comments about not deserving anything if City can’t beat the division’s weakest team, but many reckon that the game won’t be straightforward.
“This game won't be as easy as we think. I work with an Ipswich fan and they haven't actually been playing all that badly under Lambert too often, but late goals and individual errors have been costing them often. We can't afford to be too gung-ho about this, but it is absolutely a must-win game.”
“After the recent winless run and with tough games coming up, Ipswich is now a much bigger game than was necessary”, “Anything but a win against Ipswich will be very hard to accept. We were the underdogs against Leeds but will be over-dogs against the Tractor Boys”, “A victory is now essential.”
The busiest Robins message board is the friendly and knowledgeable OTIB. Bristol City highlights are available on the Multimedia menu as well as Ipswich Town and for the whole of the Championship and other EFL leagues.
Photo: Action Images
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