Bristol City 2015/16 Championship Season Preview
Bristol City are back in the Championship after a two year absence, and with West Countryman Steve Cotterill at the helm and a renovated 27,000 seater stadium a year away, the Robins are quietly confident about the footballing future in south Bristol.
Story of Last Season
Bristol City simply blitzed League One last season. Winning the title with 99 points, City started and ended the season with 16 game unbeaten streaks, and still found time to win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley. Only off the top of the table for 5 of the 46 “matchdays” and clinching promotion with a 0-6 away victory at Bradford City, Steve Cotterill’s men were the team to beat in the third tier; a feat only managed on five occasions. The fact that the League One PFA Team of the Year (voted for by fellow professionals) contained five City players in the form of: Frank Fielding, Aden Flint, Joe Bryan, Korey Smith and Luke Freeman, conveys the success and respect gained by the team. City’s away kit caused as much of a stir as their fast paced attacking football, with the purple and lime attire drawing comparisons to Barney the dinosaur and a carton of Ribena. I don’t suppose for a minute that the die-hard Ciderheads care a jot, after witnessing the most successful season for their club in living memory, maybe even the entire history of the Ashton Gate club.
If one believes substantiated rumours then City have missed out on a number of key targets such as goalkeeper Mark Bunn and defender Tom Lees. Cotterill has added to the U21 development squad with Torquay United’s Levi Ives and should also sign Derry City’s Patrick McClean in the near future. However going into the start of the season there have only been two transfers into the first team squad.
Jonathan Kodjia – Just as City fans were beginning to panic over a lack of activity, the club announced that French striker Jonathan Kodjia would join the Robins from Angers SCO for a fee of £2.1 million. Kodjia scored 15 times for Angers last season and helped the club to a 3rd position finish and subsequent promotion to Ligue 1. Kodjia turned down the chance to play in France’s top division, as Lille and Rennes showed an interest, and joins the Championships only West Country club. Kodjia is a natural athlete and possesses pace in abundance, as well as a decent aerial threat at 6ft2. He will play alongside fellow big man Aaron Wilbraham to start the season, as Kieran Agard remains side lined with injury. When Agard returns, Kodjia could well partner the Londoner as his versatile skillset means he can link with either Wilbraham or Agard. The only downside with Kodjia is the language barrier, but that can be remedied with time.
Ryan Fredericks – The last two defenders that joined Ashton Gate from White Hart Lane were Danny Rose and Steven Caulker. Both have gone on to have success in the top flight and Caulker was a fans favourite in his time in a City shirt. Cotterill will be hopeful that Fredericks follows in Caulker’s footsteps, and the 22 year old right back certainly shows promise. Fredericks was rated highly at Spurs and played in their Europa League campaign before spending time on loan at Millwall and Middlesbrough. Perhaps not quite up to the grade in the Premier League, Fredericks will provide healthly competition at right wing back for the currently injured Mark Little and Scott Wagstaff. A much needed boost to numbers for Bristol City.
Aden Flint: City’s 6ft 5.5 centre back had an astounding campaign, notching 14 league goals and another in the JPT final at Wembley. It is fair to say Flint had a slow start to his Bristol City career, after joining from Swindon Town in 2013, with then manager Sean O’Driscoll claiming he wouldn’t have paid the rumoured £350,000 fee for the man from Pinxton. However, 2014/15 proved to be Flint’s year with solid defending and goal scoring prowess – not just from his head, but also a memorable ‘rabona’ on the final day of the season versus Walsall. Flint is a firm fan favourite, especially after his hilarious response to a Sky Sports commentator after an M4 derby victory, asking if he wanted Swindon to gain promotion alongside City. Flint said no, no, no – now a popular song in and around Ashton Gate. This will be Flint’s first season playing Championship football and will be high on confidence following his PFA Team of the Year place.
Joe Bryan: Joe Bryan is the most recent, and perhaps best since club legend Louis Carey, academy product to make the step up to the first team. Bryan has a cultured left boot, but is not averse to using his right – two curlers against Bristol Rovers and Swindon Town prove that. Deployed as a left-wing-back Bryan has the pace and stamina to motor up the flank for 90 minutes. He is very competent defensively and grew into his attacking duties as the season progressed. Bryan enjoys a tackle and for a man of 5ft7 is strong and compact. Also a threat in the air with a fantastic springing jump, the Bristolian signed a contract extension in June, and holding onto the 21 year old must be a reasonably high priority for Steve Cotterill.
Luke Freeman: Luke Freeman is the king of assists, and topped the League One charts with 18. Freeman was used as a left winger at Stevenage, but has adapted well to a more central attacking role in the red of Bristol City. Freeman excels at dead ball situations, scoring a couple of free kicks but more importantly being a huge factor in Aden Flint’s tally from corners with his superb delivery. Freeman is at his best with the ball at feet and enjoys running at defenders, often creating space for others with his movement. Occasionally he can be accused of trying to beat one too many opponents, but for the most part his direct and incisive running yields results. Another youngster at 23, the Arsenal FA Youth cup winner will be a thorn in the side of many Championship defences.
Predicted Line Up
It seems almost laughable now that when Steve Cotterill was appointed, he was not a universally popular choice – far from it in fact. By now, however, all the humble pie has been eaten, digested and forgotten about. Cotterill reinvented Bristol City, and himself to a certain extent with a dynamic 3-5-2 formation a long way from the “Cotterball” that Burnley fans remember bitterly. From intricate free kick routines to an almost OCD like attention to detail, Cotterill was the mastermind for all the success at Ashton Gate. He has managed in the Championship before, and that experience will be needed as he has an incredibly small squad at his disposal. Cotterill represents a safe pair of hands at this level, especially given the calibre of the admittedly small squad.
First Six Fixtures
- Sheffield Wednesday (A)
- Brentford (H)
- Leeds United (H)
- Middlesbrough (A)
- Burnley (H)
- Birmingham City (A)
A tough set of opening fixtures for the Robins, but then the old cliché is true that there are no easy games. Looking at the Championship fixture list may worry some City fans with the competitive nature of the league, but it wasn’t long ago City competed strongly in the second tier. From these first six fixtures, the Robins should be aiming for 7 points. A solid, modest start, but a platform upon which to build – much like the stadium being constructed around them.
Final standing prediction
There will be three worse teams in the league than Bristol City this year, but the dour likes of Blackpool and Wigan have gone. Cotterill’s men will stay up, but expect them to find life tougher than this time last year. Whilst some teams have gone on to win successive promotions, this is unlikely for City as the thin squad is one or two suspensions and/or injuries away from fielding academy graduates. That said some financial frugality is just what City need after previous managers being all to keen to splash billionaire owner Stephen Lansdown’s cash. Bristol City will finish 17th.
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