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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Three ambitious signings Bristol City should make this January
One month ago Bristol City looked to be in a much stronger position than they are now. Three league defeats in a row to runaway leaders Wolves, Aston Villa and Norwich City put a series of large dents in Lee Johnson’s automatic promotion hopes.
All is not lost for the side from the West Country, however, with a hard earned point away at Derby County stopping the rot, so to speak. The fact remains, though, that City have a number of injuries to key players.
The Robins were boosted by the return of Famara Diedhiou on Friday night versus The Rams, but took two steps back with one step forward, as Frank Fielding and Nathan Baker left the field of play at half-time, with respective groin and ankle injuries.
An already thread bare squad suddenly might have got even lighter.
With a gruelling 90 minutes (at very least), versus arguably the best side in Europe, to occupy Bristol City on Tuesday, before the brutal rhythm of the Championship season snares them again on Saturday with a home tie against Ian Holloway’s QPR, the club really do need some reinforcements.
Ryan Kent (loan) and Liam Walsh (permanent) have been brought in already and, while inexperienced, their youthful energy, bravery and intuition going forward will certainly help the overall team effort.
In some respects, literally *any* players will do – just more bodies to soak up some critical minutes from the first XI regulars.
That said, if City are going to mount a serious promotion/top six push they require more than just *any* signings, the BS3 outfit require players who will really improve and strengthen key positions – taking the workload off of the current players who have (on average) played 300 minutes more than their Championship opponents in 2018 alone.
Here are three players that would strengthen Bristol City as we get stuck into the second half of the 2017/2018 Championship season…
Alfredo Morelos – Rangers
Rangers’ Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos is the most recent name to be linked with a move to Bristol City, although the latest from the Bristol Post suggest these reports were wide of the mark.
The 21-year-old boasts a very impressive goal scoring track record, roughly once every two games, across his time playing top flight football in Colombia, Lithuania and Scotland.
Rangers are unlikely to want to sell one of their prized assets, but every player has his price.
Bristol City broke their transfer record this summer on Famara Diedhiou for a fee confirmed as £5.3 million.
Steve Lansdown could well break this record again within a season if he feels, or is convinced by the scouting network, that Morelos could be the difference between promotion and mid-table mediocrity.
At 21, he certainly has room to improve and could be a useful investment.
Sam Byram – West Ham
Bristol City’s first choice right-back, Eros Pisano, is not returning to training for a few more weeks and, with Zak Vyner now joined Plymouth on loan, the club need a right-sided full-back to take some pressure off of club captain Bailey Wright.
Sam Byram is certainly at the ambitious end of the spectrum, but as the old adage goes, if you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t win the raffle.
The youngster has not had as much game time as he would have liked at West Ham and with former Bristol City player David Moyes in the east London hot seat, coupled with City’s recent track record with Premier League loanees, this may not be as implausible a loan deal as some naysayers may suggest.
Lukas Nmecha – Manchester City
With Bristol City being linked, by the Daily Mail, with Manchester City potential loanees after Pep Guardiola’s alleged satisfaction with Lee Johnson’s style of football, a few Citizen academy players have been linked with a temporary loan south.
Lukas Nmecha is one of those names. The German born forward has represented England at age groups from Under-16 to Under-19 with a fair degree of success.
The 19-year-old, who stands at six foot tall, as a striker, does not represent a position of real need for Lee Johnson. However, one could argue that City are so desperate for players that anyone who could help out with 20 minutes here and there is useful.
Especially as the likes of Matty Taylor and Gustav Engvall have not proved themselves at this level, and Milan Djuric remains sidelined for the time being.
Why Bristol City’s next three fixtures could be season defining
Bristol City have had a fantastic 2017/18 season so far, of that there can be little doubt.
Currently sitting fourth in the league, in the semi-finals of the League Cup, City have not only replaced the goals of Tammy Abraham “in-house”, they have gone viral with goal scoring gifs, and did this all playing for months with six long term injuries to first team players.
This is less a matter of months after staving off relegation and a toxic atmosphere at Ashton Gate as Lee Johnson lost eight Championship fixtures on the spin and ‘Johnson Out’ bedsheets were plastered over major highways in south Bristol.
For Bristol City to now be playing brave attacking football, beating four Premier League sides (including Manchester United) and going toe-to-toe with Manchester City at the Etihad, spearheaded by local academy midfield graduate turned striker Bobby Reid, Robins fans can have little complaints. Or so you would think.
City have somewhat under the radar lost five games on the bounce, most recently a 0-1 home versus against Norwich City (this rather cheeky tweet from the Canaries’ media team did not go unnoticed).
— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) January 13, 2018
Admittedly two of the five aforementioned defeats were in cup competitions – one a 2-1 last minute loss courtesy of Sergio Aguero, the other a 3-0 reverse at Vicarage Road with a second string XI put out by Lee Johnson.
That said, late defeats against Wolves, Norwich and a thumping at Aston Villa, won’t exactly be good for morale. Media plaudits for performances in the League Cup will only go so far, and City fans will be wanting owner Steve Lansdown to seriously invest this January to get the promotion push back on track.
Liam Walsh and Ryan Kent have been added so far, and they will inject youthful energy – much needed for this paper thin squad. Alone these two exciting prospects will not be enough.
The return of the likes of record signing Famara Diedhiou, Eros Pisano, Callum O’Dowda and Milan Djuric will also help squad depth and stop the current norm for City of players playing out of position.
However, one or two marque signings are required if Lee Johnson is to stand any chance of an automatic promotion berth. After this run of losses, the next three fixtures could be season defining for Bristol City, and they are as follows:
The toughest of the three fixtures is a Friday night trip under the lights at Pride Park. This County side is a different beast altogether than the one put to the sword 4-1 at Ashton Gate in September.
Gary Rowett is showing his credentials as one of the most talented young English managers in the game, and has guided The Rams up to second in the division, with the Whites unbeaten in the Championship since November 28th.
Impressive stuff from Derby, and it is fair to say an out of sorts Bristol City will have their work cut out. If City were to win, not only would it send a statement to the rest of league but it would also get the automatic promotion push well back on track – a massive six pointer to look forward to in the coming days.
Whenever Ian Holloway visits Ashton Gate, it is an occasion. The City faithful will never forget his Gas roots – playing, captaining and managing Bristol Rovers as well as an infamous speech from the top of a bus when Rovers pipped City to the third division title in 1990.
Holloway brings a QPR side to Ashton Gate with some familiar faces in the form of Luke Freeman and Matt Smith. The London oufit started the season poorly but are beginning to turn things around. That said, if City are serious about their promotion aspirations this needs to be three points won.
This will be the first game after the second leg home tie versus Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Let’s hope that win, lose or draw, City do not suffer a hangover going back in the brutal rhythm of the Championship.
More familiar faces for City fans with Mark Little and Aaron Wilbraham now plying their trade for Bolton Wanderers, and another three points should be the target, one feels.
Bolton, like QPR, have had a mini resurgence in recent weeks but, despite this being an away fixture, Lee Johnson will need a win to keep up the pressure on the other promotion hopefuls (especially if he loses the six pointer versus Derby).
By the time this game rolls around the Robins may have a couple of new signings, and maybe even a few of the long term injuries back in the fold.
Manchester City 2-1 Bristol City: Three talking points from the Etihad Stadium
Manchester City scored a stoppage-time winner to beat Bristol City in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final. The visitors have been the feel-good story of the competition, as they have knocked out Premier League opposition in four successive rounds. In the previous round, they knocked out Manchester United and they came to the Etihad Stadium with no fear. They pressed well and gave the hosts a fierce contest, which can’t be said of many teams this season.
Although the difference in quality was reflected in the final result thanks to a late Sergio Aguero winner, the tie is delicately poised and Bristol City will be confident that they can spring a shock result at home. Manchester City found it difficult tonight and the second leg is already shaping up to be a must-see contest, as both sides have a great chance of reaching the final. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium:
John Stones is making costly errors
Manchester City have had a near-perfect season up to now and this win over Bristol City has put them in pole position to make the final next month. The victory may not have been as comfortable as many were expecting, but they got the job done and their winning mentality is difficult for opposition teams to overcome. There always seems an inevitability that they will find a way to win.
However, Pep Guardiola will be concerned at the lack of concentration shown by John Stones in recent matches. The centre-back has developed a lot since making the move to Manchester City and was heavily praised during the first half of the season for his consistency at the back. Since his return from injury, he hasn’t been as reliable and he has now made an error that has led to a goal in successive matches.
This was a hallmark of Stones’ game during his time at Everton and early City career, but it had improved during the opening few months of the season. Guardiola needs to address it quickly before it becomes ingrained in his game once again. The challenge to concede the penalty on Tuesday was lazy and if he makes a similar error in a bigger game, it could be even more costly.
Bristol City have a great team spirit
After a poor end to last season when they were dragged into relegation trouble in the Championship, few people expected Bristol City to be challenging this campaign. Lee Johnson was among the favourites to be the first manager to lose his job and few supporters had complete faith in him when the first ball was kicked.
The young manager showed early on that he had learned from the mistakes that he had made last season and the decision to keep faith in him has been rewarded. They play an entertaining brand of attacking football and their goal gifs on Twitter have become viral sensations. As the season has progressed, the bond between the squad and supporters has become stronger.
Most Championship teams would have gone to the Etihad Stadium and looked to play a defensive style to keep the score down. Bristol City didn’t do that. They played brave, attacking football and were good value for their one-goal lead at half-time. Although they lost the match, they came out of the game with a lot of credit and remain in the tie for the second leg.
Manchester City remain in the hunt for the quadruple
The quadruple has often been a topic of speculation for the top teams in England. Jose Mourinho talked about it as a target during his first spell at Chelsea and others have since, but no team have managed to do it. It is difficult to win every trophy in England due to the competitiveness of the division. There is a top six and that isn’t the case in any other top league, which makes it near impossible for one club to win everything.
That said, this Manchester City team is special. They have dropped points on only two occasions in the Premier League and they remain in all three cup competitions. It may not have been a great display on Tuesday, but Pep Guardiola picked a strong team and set out his intentions to respect the Championship team. He knew it wouldn’t easy, despite playing a lower division side and it proved to be the case.
The quadruple remains a long shot. It would be an extraordinary achievement and mark them as one of the greatest teams in recent history. Considering this is their first season of high achievement, that underlines how good they have been. It usually takes a period of sustained success to enter those discussions, but City are already in the argument. Guardiola was brought in to take the club on that extra step to be one of the best in Europe. The Carabao Cup may not be the most respected competition, but it would provide the manager with his first trophy in England. That is an important first step.
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