Tricky start for fancied Robins – Interview
Thursday, 15th Aug 2019 20:12 by Clive Whittingham
As if being tipped for promotion in the LFW season preview wasn’t bad enough, Bristol City have started without a win in three and a long term injury to summer acquisition Jay Dasilva. Exiled Robin sets the scene…
For our season preview piece, in which we tipped City to finish second prior to a flurry of late transfer window activity, Paul told us…
“Last season was better than expected. After selling our three best players last summer a season of consolidation was expected, so to be in with a shout of a play-off spot on the final day was beyond most expectations. There's a real feel-good buzz around the place (although somewhat dampened by a 5-0 thrashing by Crystal Palace in our only home friendly match). Ultimately we were just a little short, but it was close and we hit the woodwork more than any other team. You just wonder 'what if' just a handful of those had gone in...
“Over the summer we’ve smashed our transfer record by making the signing we all wanted by spending £8m in making Tomas Kalas a permanent fixture from Chelsea, and added the other loanee, the really exciting Jay Dasilva, for a mere snip of £2m to ensure last year's strong defence has been able to stick together. Daniel Bentley has come in from Brentford to attempt to secure a spot as our long-term number one, but we sold Lloyd Kelly - regularly only on the bench last season - to Bournemouth to help fund the lot. We've added a few others here and there but you sense there's still a fair bit of business to be done, with a right back and a top quality striker our main priorities in my view.
“In signing Kalas and Dasilva, without being disrespectful to the club who have showed fantastic intent and ambition to get them both, we've effectively spent £10m to stand still - given both were loans last season. Therefore it really depends on what the final fortnight of the transfer window brings. By the time we face QPR in the league cup we'll know a bit more about where we're at. With a top striker and one or two other good quality additions, I'd like to think we'll be right in the mix for a top six spot.”
Three games, a clutch of signings and no victories later, we caught up with him again this afternoon…
In the end, what did you make of City's transfer window? A lot of late activity...
Yes it's pretty ironic that City fans usually bemoan the lack of activity on transfer deadline day (when we're being organised and are sorted) and yet there was a deluge of abuse and disappointment when we were active and made signings. We had a nothingish first month, if you don't count selling Lloyd Kelly to Bournemouth for a club record transfer fee of around £15m, a brilliant week at the start of July where we made the Kalas and Dasilva signings permanent, signed Dan Bentley and a few others, and then almost nothing again for a month.
Everyone, literally everyone including the tea-lady knew we needed another striking options and we seemed to be hanging all our hats in the Eddie Nketiah egg basket, or some sort of other weird analogy. Right up until TDD-1 we seemed to be in a good position but Marcelo Bielsa got off his bucket at the last moment and decided to replace Kemar Roofe with him instead.
During this will he/won't he saga we also then sold Adam Webster (for another club record feeof £20m+) to Brighton, and suddenly our centre-back options to play alongside Kalas were an almost-always-injured old school Nathan Baker, a nearly-as-always injured Bailey Wright and Taylor Moore, who has potential but has never played more than a game or two at this level. So we had to be signing someone, didn't we?
Then Nketiah went to Leeds. Then Bobby Reid didn't want to come home. Even the eventual striker signing - the loan of Benik Afobe which, by the way, I think is a pretty decent move - which came through about two hours after the deadline was then massively over-shadowed by the shock and sudden sale of Marlon Pack, one of our longest-serving players and a bloke who Johnson has played almost every single minute of every single game since he's been in charge.
In and around that we signed a trio of foreign players from leagues across Europe, including a Hungarian who's presumably been brought in to play instead of Marlon Pack and an 18-yo wunderkind from Monaco for £7m and you have a transfer window that was exciting, disappointing, bewildering and positive all in one.
The fans are almost exactly split three ways in a poll I ran as to whether the transfer window had been good, with the more positive looking at the spend of nearly £30m on the likes of Bentley, Afobe, Kalas, Dasilva, Palmer, Nagy et al as upgrades. There's a middle third who to be perfectly honest I feel are just a bit unsure, and then a final third who felt we should have had a striker wrapped up weeks ago, and worried that we've left a massive gap in the key area of our spine by selling Webster and Pack, and not ^quite^ spending all of the £40m we received in transfer fees.
I tried to do that succinctly....if people want an even longer version they can check out my blog post on the topic here.
Ins: Tomas Kalas, CB, Chelsea, £8m >>> Han-Noah Messengo, CM, Monaco, £7m >>> Kasey Palmer, AM, Chelsea, £3.4m >>> Adam Nagy, DM, Bologna, £2.4m >>> Jay Dasilva, LB, Chelsea, £2.5m >>> Daniel Bentley, GK, Brentford, £1.5m >>> Benik Afobe, CF, Stoke, Loan >>> Pedro Pereira, RB, Benfica, Loan >>> Sammy Szmodics, AM, Colchester, Free >>> Rene Gilmartin, GK, Colchester, Free >>> Tommy Rowe, LM, Doncaster, Free >>> Robbie Cundy, CB, Bath City, Undisclosed
Outs: Adam Webster, CB, Brighton, £20m >>> Lloyd Kelly, RB, Bournemouth, £13m >>> Marlon Pack, CM, Cardiff, £700k >>> Mo Eisa, CF, Peterborough, Undisclosed >>> Frank Fielding, GK, Millwall, Free >>> Stefan Marinovic, GK, Wellington, Free >>> Joe Morrell, CM, Lincoln, Loan >>> Jamie Paterson, AM, Derby, Loan >>> Robbie Cundy, CB, Exeter, Loan >>> Eros Pisano, FB, Released >>> Max O’Leary, GK, Shrewsbury, Loan >>> Rory Holden, CF, Walsall, Loan
Has it changed your expectations of the season? And what are they now?
I think between the loss of Webster, and now Jay Dasilva to injury until the New Year, yes, it probably has a bit. I was suggesting we should be serious play-off contenders before the Webster exit IF we signed a striker. Well we did, but losing Webster is a blow. I'd say we're still contenders, like many teams are, but there are probably more expectations of being top half, rather than amongst the favourites for the top six.
Pretty firmly beaten by Leeds on day one, what have you made of the start of the season?
It's been unsettled. That performance as much as the defeat was a worry - Leeds are probably the best in the league so losing in itself wasn't the issue, but the slightly pathetic surrender of arms was. There was no pace to our play (there are more than a few who think Pack & Johnson fell out over this and triggered his transfer), no real goal threat for most and the defence looked all over the place.
A decent draw at Birmingham last week was produced with six changes from the opening day, which tells you a lot about what Johnson thought about the Leeds performance.
What did you make of Tuesday night's festivities?
It was wide open! It was an exciting game, which was quite nice for that round of the cup where so often games are tepid, dull affairs (and we usually lose 2-0). Difficult to make too much of it with all the changes made to both sides, but the main concern from our side was the defence - third best in the league last season remember - which has leaked goals all through pre-season and continued to do so in competitive games so far. We had two smallish footballing midfielders in front of them though which we won't for Saturday, so hopefully we can be a bit more solid.
What's the current mood among supporters?
It's fairly well summed up above. A mixture of excitement over the new signings and what we might be capable of if we can sync together quickly, tempered with concern about losing key players, a scrambled defence and just how long it might take some of our new signings - especially the young overseas ones - to settle. One thing for sure with Derby away coming up on Tuesday is that we could really, really do with a win on Saturday or we might easily be five games in with no victory chalked up.
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