The view from Ashton Gate

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On the eve of the first game of the season, Mahesh Johal spoke to Paul Binning of the Exiled Robin to get the pre season views from a Bristol City perspective.

(Click here to read Mahesh’s view on Bradford City’s prospects for the Exiled Robin.)

Saturday’s fixture between the Bantams and Bristol City will see the matching of two teams with hugely contrasting campaigns last season. Whilst Bradford finally celebrated promotion back to League One, it was an unwelcomed return to the third tier for the Robins. Bottom of the table and relegated from the Championship, last term’s failure was obviously a major disappointment considering the talent in the squad.

With players such as Sam Baldock, Jon Stead and Steven Davies, it was surprising to see Bristol City struggle. However, to those closer to the club, it was culmination of three or four years of mis-management and the club stretching beyond their means. Bristol City support Paul Binning talked of the subsequent impact of reaching the 2008 Championship play off final. So close to the Premier League, expectation amongst the fans and the owner, Steve Lansdown, were massively raised. After five years, £50m worth of investment and relegation and not the promotion they craved, it could be suggested that Bristol went about achieving their goals in the wrong way.

With Baldock and Davies upfront, there was fire power in the ranks; however, it was the team’s defensive frailties that was their main undoing. Bristol City conceded a league high 84 goals, and Paul pointed to the lack of a commanding, aerially-dominant centre half who could mop up the long ball and organise the set pieces.

Sitting deep in the relegation zone after Christmas, manager Derek McInnes was replaced by Sean O’Driscoll. Whilst hopes were raised of survival, the inevitable drop was confirmed with time to spare.

It was interesting to note that Paul didn’t think O’Driscoll was the sort of manager suited to taking a random set of players and performing miracles out of them. Instead he looked at a longer-term plan, with the manager moulding a team and a squad to play in his style and with the right attitude and approach. 

This mantra of right attitude and approach will mean the end for one or two players at the club, but it has shaped the transfers made this summer. Almost all the signings this off season have been youngsters with varying degrees of experience; but they are all players O’Driscoll wants to develop and build a future with.

Paul alluded to the transfer policy last season, which saw the signing of players who were between the ages of 23-26. Whilst some didn’t work out, he suggests that Bristol City are continuing this in an attempt to create a culture of youthful exuberance and positivity.

The arrival of former Arsenal and Ipswich player Jay Emmanuel Thomas will certainly bring optimism and excitement to the team. With enormous potential, Thomas could be considered an early favourite for the division’s player of the year. Nonetheless, he has yet to fulfil his talent and this move could be a real make or break for him. A previous and successful spell with O’Driscoll at Doncaster played a big part in him signing at Ashton Gate, and Paul hopes he can replicate the form he had under the manager. If not, he thinks he could be an expensive and flamboyant passenger.

A move which could possibly have a bigger implication is the potential departure of livewire Albert Adomah. The club’s main threat for three to four years, he has proven that he good enough for the Championship. With nine Ghana caps, his international ambitions in a World Cup year may be the main reason for his transfer request. Paul looked back at history and recalls the club being stung by the Bosman ruling and saw Nicky Maynard leave on the cheap. With a valuation of £1m, there have been few takers for Adomah; but Paul is in no doubt that if someone comes in with an offer of reasonable size, the club will be accepting it.

Pre season has been mixed for the Robins, however there has been encouraging results with wins against Reading and a draw against Bournemouth. The signing of Aden Flint from Swindon – the commanding centre half that Paul felt the team needed – has been seen as the most important arrival, and he has added a steel and organisation to the defence. Paul also noted that the team are starting to play with the O’Driscoll style of comfortable possession football.

I personally feel that Bristol City will be tough nut and a team that could do well in this league. Paul agrees and feels they have a chance of promotion. If there was one thing to come out of this interview, it is the idea of having the right man in charge and building towards a long term goal.

Like Bristol City, Bradford’s ultimate goal is of course promotion back to the Championship. After our success last season, there is no doubt we are confident; but we should look to Bristol City as an example of how not to do it. They too were on high after the play off Final in 2008, however after raised expectations they have gone backwards.

Paul made a great point which I will leave you with. He said there is a general feeling of cautious optimism, with the emphasis on cautious.  It may not be this year, it may not even be next year, but give O’Driscoll time and he believes Bristol City will go where they want.

I feel exactly the same about our own Phil Parkinson. We have found the right man and are moving forward for the first time in six years. We would like promotion, but don’t need it straight away. This is a vital season in the progression of this football club and I for one cannot wait for it to start.

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