In a follow up to the season preview piece with the superb Bristol City blog, The Exiled Robin, Mahesh Johal again chatted with Paul Binning to discuss the recent happenings at Ashton Gate.
WOAP: Paul, a lot has happened since the last time at Bristol City since we spoke. To those who may not have followed the events at Ashton Gate, could you briefly explain what’s happened?
The opening day seems a long time ago now that’s for sure! But it did kind of set the scene for everything that followed – failure to defend adequately, letting in late goals, losing points we perhaps could have won…
Ultimately we haven’t won enough games, haven’t kept enough clean sheets and confidence, under Sean O’Driscoll, seemed to be shot. We’ve been ‘in’ the vast majority of games this season and it’s not beyond the wit of man to think we could have been 10-12 points better off, if not more.
But we aren’t, and the change in manager was seen by some, perhaps many, as essential.
WOAP: In your opinion, what’s gone wrong?
As well as the above…O’Driscoll tried to rebuild a side and wanted them to play in a particular style. It seemed to many that it was starting to work but it was very much a slow build and that’s a strategy that can only work for so long in this chaotic world of football management, and is only given time by the fans if results are okay.
Results weren’t and key players made big mistakes at key moments. Sam Baldock has scored quite a few, but missed a number of simple chances at key moments in games we’ve lost/drawn late on. Aden Flint passed straight to Lee Hughes in the 93rd minute at Port Vale when we were 1-0 up and heading for our first win and first clean sheet. That took us six games to recover from.
Ultimately confidence needed a short, sharp shock and O’Driscoll’s slowly slowly approach didn’t cut enough ice with the Board for long enough. Steve Cotterill’s open enthusiasm for the game and brashness appears to have struck a chord early on with many of the players, who are playing in a more expansive fashion, and many fans who have enjoyed the last couple of matches as much as many in the past three or four years.
WOAP: I follow you on Twitter and you seemed to be in favour of Sean O’Driscoll and appeared to back him during the tougher period of his rein. Was it the right move to fire him and is Steve Cotterill the answer?
In a nutshell, and without repeating the above, I still believe Sean O’Driscoll was building something at City that in 12-24 months’ time would have been a resounding success. His approach to building a style and getting players used to it was always going to take time but the sand ran out, albeit at a rather strange moment bearing in mind we’d lost only one of the previous seven.
Is Steve Cotterill the answer? That’s a tricky one as I have a number of reservations but it’s certainly a case of so far so good. The ‘hoofball’ tactics are yet to be seen in earnest, at home anyway, whilst the fear that the promising youngsters would be sidelined and their development set back in place of more experienced players has yet to materialise, although it will be interesting to see what the January transfer window brings.
All he can do is win some games and get us out of the bottom section – for now, that’s what’s important.
WOAP: You’ve previously mentioned the long term plan being implemented by the club, in which younger players were being brought in to play a specific brand of football. Will this still be the plan for Bristol?
I certainly hope so, and believe it’s got to be. We’ve been totally unsustainable for far too long and this will never change whilst we fire a manager each year and treat every transfer window like the Magic Roundabout of players.
We need stability and a core of developed players staying together for a few years, slowly improving our position as they develop. The academy has brought in a Spanish coach to bring the under 21s forward in Carlos Anton and he’s started well, so hopefully the change of manager won’t lead to a change in that approach.
WOAP: You talked about your chairman Stephen Lansdown and the investment he made after your Play Off Final defeat to Hull. There seems to be some resentment towards him and the board, and he recently talked about being ‘scapegoated’ for the recent decline. What are your thoughts on him and do you feel he should take any flack for the present situation?
As the man ultimately in charge and the owner he has to take some flack, but I wouldn’t swap him for anyone right now. He’s overseen the appointment of a series of managers who have been unable to halt the decline, he sanctioned the serious overspending that has led to £50m worth of losses (which he’s covering) and he is the one responsible for putting the Board structure in place which appears to still be finding its feet.
However, he’s also the one who is a City fan, who loves the club and has put his money where his mouth is – with the redevelopment of Ashton Gate on the horizon, we’ve an awful lot to thank him for…but the next 12 months are key in terms of how we approach the long-term plan and strategy.
WOAP: Steve Cotterill’s started well and you’re unbeaten in four games (including a big win over relegation rivals Stevenage). What can Bradford expect to see from you come Saturday?
Hopefully a revitalised and newly confident team, playing with a bit more freedom. We’ve switched to a 3-5-2 formation recently which seems to bring the best out in most areas of the pitch, and in Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (JET) and Sam Baldock we have a front pairing as good as any in the division on their day, always likely to threaten goals. However I’d suggest you look out for Bobby Reid in the centre of midfield, he’s unlikely to be with us for too long with Southampton reported to be keeping tabs on him amongst others.
WOAP: We are resigned to lose Nahki Wells. You guys have two goal scorers in JET and Sam Baldock. Do you expect them to be with you come February and are there any areas you will looking for Cotterill to strengthen?
It’s really difficult to say. I can’t see Baldock leaving, partly as we’d demand a fair fee (we paid £1m) and his wages are probably amongst the highest in the division outside of Wolverhampton. JET however…I hope for us and for him that he doesn’t leave, his career trajectory shows that he’s struggled to settle anywhere and seems to have found himself a good fit, but obviously all players want to test themselves at the highest level possible, and if a Championship club was willing to gamble a sizeable fee on him, it would be surprising if he turned that chance down.
WOAP: Finally, I really hope you guys stay up and still think on paper you have enough to do so! Are you confident of avoiding the drop?
Yes, always have been. Recent results and performances have boosted those chances, but I was always confident the form was on the up and it was only a matter of time.
Click here to read Mahesh’s views on City for the Exiled Robin.