Bristol City preview and pubs: Relegation-threatened Robins rocking into town
Bristol City start Brentford’s end-of-season run-in on Saturday with their Championship place for next season very much in the balance, despite a thumping 4-0 win over promotion-chasing Huddersfield in their last game.
With eight games remaining, the Robins are only one point clear of the relegation zone and are above both Nottingham Forest and Burton only on goal difference.
At least their form has picked up since the start of March and they will come to Griffin Park on the back of a four-game unbeaten run, which has lifted them out of the relegation zone.
That impressive hammering of Huddersfield followed a 1-0 win at Wigan – only City’s third away win of the season – and back-to-back draws at home to Burton and Norwich.
Add in a draw at Newcastle two games previously and a 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa is their only loss in six matches.
It’s a far cry from earlier in the season when they were in the play-off zone until the start of November.
Among their early results was a 4-0 win at Fulham and 1-0 home defeat of Leeds.
Their star man has been on loan Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham, who has scored 19 goals in 32 full appearances and one as substitute in the Championship to make him the division’s third highest league scorer behind Chris Wood of Leeds and Newcastle’s Dwight Gayle.
This is Bristol City’s second season back at this level after two years in League One. Last year they finished 18th but a comfortable 12 points above the relegation zone.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Lee Johnson took charge of Bristol City in February last year, replacing Steve Cotterill, who had been sacked the previous month.
Johnson, son of Cheltenham manager Gary, played 199 games for the Robins in a six-year spell – with Yeovil the other major club in his playing career, which also took him to Watford, Brighton, Hearts, Derby, Chesterfield and Kilmarnock.
When he moved into management with Oldham in March 2013, he was the Football League’s youngest boss at the age of 31.
Two years later, he moved to Barnsley and he guided them to last season’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final before immediately leaving for the Ashton Gate job.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Brentford have had the better of things in our meetings this decade.
We won this season’s match at Ashton Gate 1-0 a couple of Tuesdays before Christmas with a goal midway through the second half by Maxime Colin.
We also won at Ashton Gate last season in City’s first home game back in the Championship. Jonathan Kodija gave them a very early lead but Alan Judge quickly equalised, only for Aaron Wilbraham to restore the hosts’ lead midway through the first half.
City’s Luke Freeman was then sent off before Judge equalised in the 42nd minute.
Goals after the break from Andre Gray, his last for Brentford, and Philipp Hofmann, his first for the club, wrapped up a 4-2 victory.
The return game, like this season’s in April, was notable for Scott Hogan’s first goal in a Brentford shirt. He came on as a substitute in the 72nd minute and in the 85th minute had a great chance to open his account when he was fouled in the penalty area – however, goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell saved his spot-kick.
Hogan was not to be denied though and in the first minute of injury-time headed in a Jake Bidwell cross to cancel out Lee Tomlin’s first half goal for the visitors and earn the Bees a point as it finished 1-1.
BBC Radio Bristol’s Ed Hadwin analyses Bristol City’s season, tells us how good Tammy Abraham is and recalls a Brentford free-kick trick, long before we ever thought of having a set-piece coach.
Q – What has gone wrong for Bristol City this season? What were the expectations at the start of the season and can they escape the dreaded drop?
A – Before the start of the season, I think the goal for most City fans was making sure they weren’t involved in another relegation battle, with the more optimistic dreaming of a top half finish. It was all going pretty swimmingly for the first couple of months, as they picked up where they left off last season, playing some good football and scoring a number of late goals to win games. That slowed down a bit, but City were still very much on the fringes of the play-off places until December where the wheels really came off, losing a club record eight straight league games (Ed – including the Bees’ win at Ashton Gate).
Throughout that entire run, there haven’t been many games where City have been played off the pitch by the opposition, but they always had a bad 20 minutes in a match, during which they would invariably concede a couple of goals. Games against Cardiff, Reading, Derby and Newcastle all saw them throw away match-winning positions.
Thankfully the last month has seen a lot more resilience from the team, with three clean sheets in their last four games and that win over Huddersfield has certainly given more fans the belief they can stay in the Championship.
Q – The chairman has been very brave to stick with Lee Johnson when other struggling clubs have sacked their managers? He clearly loves the club, as a former player, so long-term is he the man who can eventually mount a Premier League promotion challenge?
A – The club’s owner, Steve Lansdown, is certainly not someone who makes knee-jerk decisions. He has always looked to stick with managers at Ashton Gate through the difficult times, but particularly so when it comes to Lee Johnson. There is undoubtedly a strong family connection, as Lee’s dad – and former City boss Gary – is still on very good terms with the Lansdowns. They want Lee to succeed and are very happy with the way the club is developing off the pitch and the increased chance that Academy players have been given in the first team.
All of that helps, of course, but the bottom line is obviously the first team and making them a success. The fact they hadn’t been losing badly and were playing some really good football at times, made it easier to stick with Johnson even when more and more of the supporters were starting to call for a change.
It’s difficult to know just where he stands with the fans at the moment. A good number undoubtedly want him out, but others have seen the success he’s had in lower leagues, and in his first nine months at Ashton Gate, and can see a brighter future. Johnson talks very well and his passion for the club is obvious. He wants to get City into the Premier League, as do the owners, and assuming they stay up this season, it would be fair to say they’ll expect to see a few more signs of progress next campaign.
Q – How good has Tammy Abraham been – especially as he has scored more than three times as many goals as any of his team-mates?
A – Very, very good. It really is as simple as that. He’s a long way from the finished article, and there are times in games when you can see some pretty obvious areas where he’ll need to improve if he’s to reach the very top level. But in his very first season of senior football (and he was just 18 when he started the campaign), he’s shown more than enough to make many City fans think he could easily go on to play for England.
He doesn’t tend to score spectacular goals, but every time the ball comes anywhere near the six-yard box, he’s always there. If you watch his movement for the goal he scored against Huddersfield in their last game, there are plenty of senior strikers who could learn a thing or two about how he manoeuvres the defender into a position he doesn’t want to be in.
He’s not just a finisher either. His defensive work at set-pieces has been impressive all season and while his hold-up play will undoubtedly improve, he’s still shown the ability to bully defenders at times during the season, particularly at Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the campaign. He really could be anything he wants to be and City fans have enjoyed having him for a season.
Q – Do you have any good or bad memories, or have you been involved in any unusual incidents, of previous trips to Griffin Park, or in home games against Brentford, either for work or as a fan?
A – One of the first games I ever saw at Griffin Park was while I was on a training course at BBC TV Centre. It was to work on our commentary skills and the practical part of it saw us come to watch Brentford at Griffin Park. My memory being what it is, I’ve no idea now who they were playing, but I was commentating alongside the former Aston Villa winger Steve Froggatt. It must have been in the 2001-02 season, because Steve Coppell was definitely in charge, and it was (perhaps unsurprisingly!) a set-piece that stayed with me.
There were four Brentford players all stood pretty much on the penalty spot and then, as the kick was taken, they then ran towards opposite corners of the area, while a player who’d been lurking near the halfway line powered into the box with a free header. Obviously he missed, but I was really taken with the thought that had gone into it and I’ve never seen anything similar since then!
Q – What do you remember about this season’s pre-Xmas game at Ashton Gate?
A – Absolutely nothing, sadly. On our sports team, myself and my boss split the City & Rovers games between us and that was one of his!
Q – Apart from Abraham, which other City players should we watch out for?
A – This is a difficult one, because pretty much all of City’s best performances this season have been real team efforts, rather than relying on an individual. In terms of sheer talent, then Lee Tomlin is very much the man. At his best, he’s capable being one of the best, if not the best, number 10 in the division. But he needs to be involved in the game regularly otherwise it can rather pass him by, especially if he’s played out wide.
Aden Flint is something of a cult hero at Bristol City, and has chipped in with more than his fair share of goals during his time at City. And now his partnership with Bailey Wright in the centre of defence is finally starting to show signs of really coming together. He’ll certainly be a threat at set-pieces.
And since his return to the club, David Cotterill has made a real impact on the right-hand side of midfield. He’s always had good delivery and attacking intent, but his defensive work has undoubtedly improved over the years, and he’s made a real difference since coming back to City.
Q – Which Bees players will you be wary of?
A – From a personal point of view, I always like to see how players cope if they step up a division or two so the likes of Daniel Bentley and Romaine Sawyers, who definitely impressed me when I’ve seen them before, are definitely on my list. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Sergi Canos, who was strongly linked with a move to City, before choosing to go to Norwich instead.
Bristol City switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation for their last match against Huddersfield a fortnight ago.
Frank Fielding (ex-Derby and England Under-21) continued in goal behind a back four featuring midfielder Korey Smith (ex-Oldham) at right-back for the second successive game, the versatile long-serving Joe Bryan at left-back and a centre-half pairing of Aden Flint (ex-Swindon) and Bailey Wright (ex-Preston).
Flint (ex-Swindon) is one of only four players in the entire three divisions of the Football League to have played every minute of every league and cup game this season, while a decision on Wright’s participation at Griffin Park will depend on whether he recovers from jetlag after playing in two World Cup qualifiers for Australia over the past week.
If Wright doesn’t make it then midfielder and former German international Jens Hegeler (ex-Hertha Berlin) will take his place.
The two defensive midfielders were Marlon Pack (ex-Cheltenham) and Gary O’Neil (ex-Portsmouth and England Under-21)
Republic of Ireland international winger Callum O’Dowda (ex-Oxford) was recalled against the Terriers and played on the left, with Wales international and on loan Birmingham midfielder David Cotterrill, in his second spell with City, on the right – either side of Lee Tomlin (ex-Peterborough), who was in the number 10 role.
On loan Chelsea striker and England Under-21 international Tammy Abraham played the lone striker role.
Captain and striker Aaron Wilbraham, who began his career in 1997 with Stockport, was one of three substitutes who were used late on, along with Jens Hegeler (mentioned earlier) and midfielder Josh Brownhill (ex-Preston).
Not used were striker Matty Taylor, who crossed the city divide when he signed from Bristol Rovers on the January transfer deadline day, Iceland international defender Hordur Magnusson (ex-Cesena), who scored a direct free-kick, conceded by John Egan, in the midweek win over Republic of Ireland, midfielder and former trainee Bobby Reid and on loan Schalke goalkeeper Fabian Giefer.
On loan Nottingham Forest striker Jamie Paterson (ex-Walsall) is also available but Bosnia international striker Milan Djuric (ex-Cesena) and defender Mark Little (ex-Peterborough) are both out injured.
PUBS IN BRENTFORD
For Bristol City fans coming down, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming.
There are now only three pubs around the ground, following the closure of the Royal Oak.
The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal is the other option.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other .. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.
The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields (it’s a much better pub crawl route getting off at Northfields than South Ealing) before making your way down to the ground (normally stopping off at The Globe and Lord Nelson en route).
There is also a pub right by Brentford station always referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman can probably hold 15 of you at a push. The Brewery Tap is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit the brand new boozer One Over the Ait right on the river – beside the bridge. There are loads more too.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.
Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Road (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.
You can check out details of how the tube is running on Transport for London’s website here.