Robins running red hot ahead of Rangers visit – Interview
Tuesday, 12th Feb 2019 09:33 by Clive Whittingham
Unbeaten in 14 games and with eight straight wins going into Tuesday night’s game, Bristol City are the Championship’s form team and not ideal opposition for QPR in their current state. LFW spoke to Te Exiled Robin...
How would you assess Bristol City's season so far? Done well to compete for the play-offs again given the summer departures of Auden Flint, Joe Bryan and Bobby Reid…
Yes absolutely. Selling your three best players (albeit for around £20m) is going to make any team weaker in theory, and after a bright start when we went on a little run of wins, I think for the first half of the season there was much of what we expected - mass inconsistency. We lost at Wigan, Reading and home to Sheffield Wednesday, but won at Brentford and beat Hull. Ultimately we were a side marooned in midtable, not good enough to challenge, but with too much about us to get dragged into the relegation zone.
I wouldn't say we were playing particularly well either, some really awful performances in amongst them, but then at the end of November we came back to win a quite dreadful quality game of football at Ipswich 3-2 (on my birthday!) and we've been on song ever since. I'd say it's only really Bobby Reid's energy and goals we've properly missed - and Aden Flint's threat at set-pieces, but the replacements have largely slotted in well.
Fourteen matches unbeaten, eight straight wins, what have been the key factors in this recent run?
Main striker Famara Diedhiou had struggled to get going during that poor run but then scored an incredibly fortuitous goal in that Ipswich win, and his improved from since then has certainly helped. Callum O'Dowda has come back from injury around the same time and is playing superbly, whilst Jamie Paterson - often the fall guy - has worked himself back into some form and slotted in more centrally to help bolster our midfield.
But the stars of the show so far have been our two centre-backs, Tomas Kalas and the imperious Adam Webster. We've got (comfortably) the second-best defence in the league and these two have been described by some as the best centre-back pairing they've ever seen at City. Kalas is the more aggressive one - as much as you can be these days - but can play a bit too, whilst Adam Webster brings the ball out of defence as well as John Stones. He's a fantastic footballer, regularly dribbling it forward through the midfield and knocking 40-yard balls with either foot at ease - he becomes a midfielder with the ball and that extra man can make such a difference in the engine room.
For those that haven't seen you, what system do you play, how do you line up, what style can we expect from you?
Typically it's a 4-1-4-1, with Marlon Pack acting as 'quarter-back' in front of the defence, and stepping back in when Webster moves forward, then four mainly attacking midfielders who work their socks off in both directions, supporting Diedhiou up front. It's a mainly patient, possession-based game, although we're not adverse to knocking balls into the channels to turn the opposition defence, especially away from home. But most success comes when O'Dowda, Paterson and Andi Weimann interlink and run at defences at speed.
How would you assess the job Lee Johnson is doing?
Based on your first question, you've got to say he's dong very well. Yes, he's been given more support and time than any other City manager, but he seems to be learning from mistakes and - if we can avoid the end-of-season slump we've had a couple of times already under him, we'll have progressed under him for the third consecutive season wherever we finish. He always seems to have critics - he was a Marmite-type player for us - but I do think the majority, and the vast majority at present - appreciate the job he's doing. I think, bizarrely, he's one of these young coaches full of modern techniques and ideas, who's more appreciated outside Bristol than actually by a number of the club's fans.
Stand out players and weak links in the side?
Defensively Webster alongside the pair of Chelsea loanees Kalas and Jay Dasilva are strong and all good technically. Josh Brownhill and Callum O'Dowda are a young pair of energetic midfielders with tons of potential, whilst all opposition fans seem to think Diedhiou up front is a massive handful whenever I hear an opinion. We've also signed Kasey Palmer - another Chelsea loanee - who spent the first half of the season playing second fiddle to Bradley Dack at Blackburn - but has come in and been very effective from the bench so far.
I'm not sure there are obvious weak links right now, with the form we're in, but if I had to pick one it would be right-back if club captain Bailey Wright plays there. He's a centre-half by trade and whilst he'll always give everything, the pacier, trickier wingers are usually a bit too good for him in that position.
How do you see the rest of the season going?
After seven wins in a row it's hard not to get carried away, but I still have this nagging feeling we're still punching a little above our weight. At the start of the season I was thinking 12-14th, whilst before we came to Loftus Road and thumped you (your season-changing moment?) I was just hoping to remain out of the bottom six. A top eight finish would be a great achievement.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @theexiledrobin
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