The Championship is one of the tightest and most unpredictable leagues in Europe. It is becoming harder and harder for relegated Premier League clubs to bounce back at the first attempt, due to the competitiveness of the division.
The difficulty posed by the second tier is symbolised by the incredible start of Bristol City. The Robins have not been in the top flight since it was rebranded in 1992 and last season’s finish of 17th suggested they were a long way from achieving promotion.
However, they have started the new season in great form and are currently in fourth position, five points clear of seventh. They are the joint-third highest scorers in the division and one of the best teams for neutrals to watch.
There were fears that they would struggle in front of goal after the loss of successful loanee Tammy Abraham, but an academy graduate has stepped up to fill the void.
Bobby Reid has been one of the breakout stars of the Football League this season and established himself as the leader of the Bristol City attack. He has started all 16 of the club’s league matches and currently has nine goals, which ranks him second in the race for the division’s golden boot accolade.
It has taken the forward time to become a key player for the Robins and when speaking to The Boot Room, he admits that the loan spells away from the club helped him reach the level he is at now.
“The Oldham loan was great for me. I was far away from home so had to stay up there. It was obviously under the gaffer’s management (Lee Johnson) and Korey (Smith) was there as well. I really enjoyed it.
“Then the Plymouth loan was brilliant; playing the whole season in the league and we were unfortunate not to go up, losing in the play-offs. I’d recommend it to any young player – you need to play games and play men’s football, it’s just so different to under-23 football.”
It is a common narrative in the media to criticise the state of youth and reserve football, with loans to a team lower down the football pyramid becoming the best option for young players.
These comments from Reid are particularly pertinent now after the success of the English age groups in 2017. There have been calls for the successful Young Lions to be given a chance in the Premier League, but the success of the Bristol City man suggests they will have more luck going out on loan.
Reid’s relationship with current Robins manager Lee Johnson, the seeds of which were sewn during his last few weeks at Oldham Athletic in the 2012/13 season, has played a huge role in his development, to date.
He played seven games in League One for the Latics, with Johnson clearly impressed with his somewhat raw talent. Naturally, this aided Reid when the 36-year-old coach eventually made the switch to Ashton Gate.
The confidence that his manager has in him has played a big role in his improvement during the last 12 months, as the player himself recognises:
“He’s told me to be patient in the past. He always said he believes in me and now it’s showing. He’s kept that faith in me and I want to repay him for that with my performances on the pitch. As I said, he signed me on loan at Oldham years ago and has always said that he likes me as a footballer.”
Reid only played two matches during the successful promotion campaign in 2014-15 as Bristol City returned to the Championship after a two-year spell in League One. The 24-year-old spent the majority of that season on loan at Plymouth Argyle, but showed signs of maturity. This earned him a place in the Robins’ squad for the following season.
Although he has done okay during the last two seasons, scoring five goals and contributing four assists, there was a belief that he could achieve more. He featured in 58 Championship matches, but 24 of those were from the bench.
Nonetheless, this term, the exit of Abraham has allowed Reid to play in a more advanced role as a centre forward, and he believes that he where is long-term future lies:
“I’m more comfortable in the striker role and it’s allowed me to shine and play regularly. I’ve worked hard over the summer to make sure I was right and I’m reaping the benefits now. I do see it as my long-term position now. Having playing in midfield previously in my career, I feel it allows me to do a bit of everything to cause defenders confusion.”
The most noticeable impact of the move has been the increased confidence of Reid. He now looks like a player that believes he is one of the best in the division and that is resulting in goals and assists.
Currently, he is averaging 2.25 shots and 1.61 chances created per ninety minutes. That doesn’t represent a huge rise from last season, during which he averaged 3.19 shots and 1.22 chances created. In fact, he is now averaging fewer shots on goal per ninety minutes, but his shot accuracy has risen from 39% to 63%.
In addition to his position change, the improved form of the team will have helped improve the production of Reid, as he is now playing in a side that believes they can compete at the top of the division. Results have improved this season, but the 24-year-old isn’t surprised by City’s position in the league table:
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been surprised by anything. We’re staying in games longer and are getting draws or wins late in games, where maybe in the past we would have lost games. It’s going really well but no one is getting carried away.”
Last season, the Robins fell into a relegation battle after a bright start, but they were seen as a good team, especially in attack. However, negative momentum built, especially at the beginning of the calendar year, and they found it difficult to arrest the slide.
There were calls for Johnson to lose his job on social media, but those inside the club could see how close they were to achieving success and they are now being rewarded for that faith.
Reid’s comments above show that the squad remained with the manager, but more importantly, they aren’t getting carried away with their early success. The last few years of progression have been special for the 24-year-old, considering he came through the club’s academy.
“It’s special for the likes of myself and Joe (Bryan), coming through the youth system to play for your local club, and more recently Lloyd Kelly and Zak Vyner have also broken through. We want to help the club reach the Premier League; that’s our aim and the club’s aim.”
For a club like Bristol City in the Championship, it is important to bring players through to the first-team as they don’t have the finances of those clubs coming down from the Premier League. They need to find other ways to compete and the emergence of Reid as a leading player in the division shows that they are managing to do just that.
In addition to making headlines on the pitch, Bristol City have been the talk of social media for their goal GIFs on Twitter, posted every time a goal is scored. They have brought attention to the team and are an indicator of the excellent team spirit at the club.
“My favourite so far has been Flinty’s. He had the suit jacket one and then the DJ spinning plates. There are some other great ones yet to be seen; Marlon Pack’s is great so let’s hope he scores soon. If it’s a high-scoring game for us, it’s great to see all the GIFs getting coverage.”
— Bristol City FC (@BristolCity) September 30, 2017
The 24-year-old had an eye-catching one after his goal against Derby County in September, when he was videoed with a fire extinguisher, alluding to his hot streak on the pitch.
Few would have predicted Reid’s performances this season. He was hardly spoken about as a realistic option to replace Abraham, but he has done just that and he will have ambitions of passing the 20-goal mark like his predecessor did when leading the line at Ashton Gate.
Unsurprisingly, Reid’s form has caused media speculation regarding his future with his contract set to expire next summer. Bristol City have an option of another 12 months, but supporters will be hoping that he remains at Ashton Gate for longer than that.
When asked about his personal aims for the future, he simply said:
“Just to keep on playing and scoring for Bristol City. Who knows where this season could take us.”
As a player that has come through the ranks and been on the recent journey with Bristol City, it would be great for him to win another promotion with the club and do so as an important part of the team this time.
There is a long way to go and there are no guarantees that the Robins will finish in the top-six, but with Reid, they have one of the best players in the division. They have a great chance of becoming the 50th club to play in the Premier League.