Friday’s limp defeat at Queens Park Rangers feels like a turning point in our season where it now looks as if we are more likely to get relegated than survive. Out of form, out of goals, out of luck, out of quality, it’s getting harder to see how we can pick up the results required to keep us in the Championship.
That said, we are still out of the relegation zone – and can’t drop into it even with a loss in this game – which underlines that, despite how it currently feels, survival is still in our hands. This team desperately needs not only a big result soon but a reason to believe that we are capable of staying up. A home game against a Bristol City side in indifferent form and with little to play is as good an opportunity as we could hope for to reverse our current momentum.
Having had just under two weeks of preparation, the team selection against Queens Park Rangers was probably an indication of what Mark Robins believes would keep this team in the division. However, after seeing the 3-4-2-1 come up short, this is one of the final chances to change things up in order to find something that works out before it’s too late.
The most surprising thing about the potential line-up for this game would be if it was similar to the one chosen for the QPR game. All bets are off as to what kind of shape the manager may opt for and who may come in or out of the side, but something must surely be done to address our current inability to create, let alone score, chances on goal.
A move to two strikers would be appear to be the most logical step, but it is something that Mark Robins has clearly been reticent to do – perhaps fearful of being overwhelmed in midfield. Matt Godden was clearly not ready to play up front on his own in the QPR game and may be kept on the bench in favour of Viktor Gyokeres and Tyler Walker, however, there have been suggestions throughout the season that the manager wants to find a way to make Walker and Godden work as a strike partnership and this may be the first opportunity he has had to test it out.
The set up of the midfield is probably the biggest area of intrigue heading into this game. Callum O’Hare was conspicuous by his absence from the starting line-up against QPR, seemingly to keep him fresh for this game – the more winnable one of the two over this Bank Holiday weekend. However, two in attack plus Callum O’Hare would likely leave us having to play a midfield two that we possibly don’t have the personnel for. It’s possible that O’Hare could be sacrificed in order to keep the midfield a tigher, more robust unit.
At the back, Kyle McFadzean’s return is timely following another injury set-back for Michael Rose. There are increasing calls for Julien Dacosta to be dropped, however, there isn’t really an ideal alternative with Josh Pask having been a clear downgrade on Dacosta during his last run in the starting line-up.
Last Time We Met
The meeting at Ashton Gate on the opening day of the season between these two teams has proven to be our subsequent campaign in microcosm.
There was the terrible start, with Bristol City taking the lead via Jamie Paterson straight from the kick-off. There was the encouraging response, with Matt Godden pouncing on a loose ball in the penalty area to level the score after a spell of control from the Sky Blues.
There was then a period where we failed to capitalise on being on top, failing to score from some decent chances early in the second-half. Then we tired as the game wore on, before conceding a sloppy goal from a set-piece to lose a game we probably deserved at least a point from.
It was a game that sent the message that, despite our best efforts, maybe we didn’t quite just didn’t have enough quality to reliably take points in this division.
The Manager – Nigel Pearson
A man whose managerial career centres around two successful spells at Leicester City and a series of fairly underwhelming stints at other clubs trying to recapture that success, Nigel Pearson was parachuted into the Bristol City job in February after a disastrous run of form under Dean Holden. A few decent results have negated any threat of relegation, but Bristol City have yet to really get going under Nigel Pearson – especially at home.
The two wins that Pearson has mustered at Bristol City thus far have been based on swift counter-attacking displays, having struggled to create chances when handed possession. With his contract up at the end of the season, Pearson is looking to demonstrate that he is the man to take a club with Premier League aspirations forward. A defeat to a relegation-threatened side would go against him, but, as a pragmatically-minded manager, he is unlikely to set his team up aggressively to dominate this game.
Who To Look Out For
The quick, nimble trio of Antoine Semenyo, Nahki Wells and Kasey Palmer look to be what Nigel Pearson is attempting to build Bristol City’s attacking threat around. Semenyo and Palmer in particular look to have relished Pearson’s management, having been on the fringes of the team earlier in the season. Palmer is a rangy attacking midfielder who was once seen as a bright talent at this level but has struggled to find a manager that trusts his talents. Semenyo has everything a young forward could hope for – pace, physical strength, technical skill – but hasn’t been trusted to start regularly until recently.
With Wells a reliable goalscorer at Championship level, the dominant target-man, Famara Diedhiou, is another key attacking weapon for Bristol City. The Senegalese striker is a physical brute who can brush defenders aside, giving Bristol City a reliable outlet up front to bring their nimble attacking players into the game.
In central midfield, French youngster, Han-Noah Massengo, has been another beneficiary of Pearson’s management. A former wunderkind, Massengo had lost his way somewhat over the past 18 months but has seemingly rediscovered his mojo. Composed on the ball and physically assertive, Massengo could help Bristol City win the midfield battle.
At the back, the experienced Adrian Mariappa looks to be a key lieutenant for the new manager, helping calm down a defensive unit that had been leaking goals at an alarming rate before the departure of Dean Holden. In addition, goalkeeper, Daniel Bentley, looks to have improved his consistency this season after an up-and-down first year at the club, having once been seen as one of the best keepers in the Championship.
As for our Player of the Year last year, Liam Walsh, the midfielder has made a long-awaited return from injury recently but looks to have picked up a knock that will keep him out of this game.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
That we, more-or-less, have to attack this game is going to suit Bristol City. Nigel Pearson is a manager who tends to know how to set up a defence and has the ability via Antoine Semenyo, Kasey Palmer and Nahki Wells to hit us on the counter-attack. It was the exact formula deployed successfully in a recent win over Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.
Despite that, we don’t really have the option but to take the risk of playing into Bristol City’s hands by looking to seize the initiative in this game. We have seen over the past month that we lack the quality to reliably execute a defensive game-plan and we are now in a situation where we have to pick up wins. Even if we don’t win this game, attempting to play in a more proactive manner is likely to be good practice for the challenge to come.
The key areas of the game for us are going to be getting the ball into our strikers as quickly as possible, being decisive when we get into the final third and the midfield doing the best possible job at cutting out Bristol City’s counter-attacking threat before they can isolate our defence.