Pearson halts Robins' nosedive - Interview
Friday, 5th Mar 2021 13:49 by Clive Whittingham
Bristol City had lost six on the spin and looked ripe for the beating a fortnight ago, but new manager Nigel Pearson has hit the ground running with wins in two tough away games since his appointment. We spoke to The Exiled Robin for the latest at Ashton Gate.
How's the season been overall for City?
A mixed bag as ever with City. We flew out of the blocks with four straight wins, then had a good late autumn too and things were looking rosy, but a combination of injuries and a coaching team seemingly encroaching into a shell in terms of style of play led to a rapid decline, and seven straight defeats ultimately cost Dean Holden his job.
City league results so far…
What went wrong for Dean Holden, tracking steadily enough and then fell off a cliff, or were there warning signs before that?
He started full of enthusiasm, as you'd expect, but he's a proper football man, a fan, and you could tell he was delighted and excited to have his big chance. He set out with a mantra of 'eyes forward' to appease those who have been critical of an often defensive approach in the last 18 months, and with the first choice team at the start of the season, he achieved that. Young players such as Zak Vyner, Tyreeq Bakinson and Antoine Semenyo were also given a proper chance for the first time.
But injuries have rocked our season - we've had at least eight first-team squad players out for 80% of our matches, a number of them long-term such as Andi Weimann, Jamie Paterson, Jay Dasilva, Nathan Baker, Joe Williams, Liam Walsh, Chris Martin - Alfie Mawson and Steven Sessegnon both came in on loan from Fulham and haven't played more than ten games between them. At different points we have had five central midfielders, four centre-backs, all our left-footed players and more out - so you could say it's hardly surprising we've struggled?
But the issue was more the manner of the defeats, and no sign of things turned around. A gutless display in the local derby against Cardiff was followed by a 6-0 thrashing at Watford, and after calling for unity and a reaction (again) that was followed by an inept performance at home to Reading, and the players clearly weren't responding to whatever he was asking them to do. There was almost universal opinion amongst the fanbase that he had to go at that point.
What did you make of the Nigel Pearson appointment? Was he your choice, what's he changed so far?
Fantastic. Surprising - it's been more than a decade since we appointed a manager of his reputation, stature and presence - and even this perhaps trumps a very short ill-fated spell from Steve Coppell. The entire club has been lifted, the players and fanbase have reacted positively, and like lemmings running towards a cliff-edge we're all excited again.
Seen a lot of grief for Nahki Wells online, though he's back to scoring lately. What's the problem there? Feel free to send him back.
Ha ha yes it's fair to see he's failed to replicate anything like the form he was showing in west London, although the last few weeks have been an improvement. I'm not sure what the problem has been; suspicions have been that he didn't really want to be here (he was used as a bit of an unofficial make-weight in the deal that took Josh Brownhill to Burnley if you recall), he certainly seemed to have some issues with Dean Holden as a coach and has spent large parts of his time playing wide rather than through the middle. But as I say, the last 3-4 games have shown an improvement and green shoots of a relationship between him and Famara Diedhiou, which we all hope can fire us to success.
January transfer activity?
It was limited, like it was for many clubs, although with our injuries we desperately needed reinforcements, especially on the left side, which we didn't get. Instead we got an ageing and not-played-in-four-years Henri Lansbury to become our 45th central midfielder on the books which seemed strange at the time. The main positive I guess was that we held onto Diedhiou, who's out of contract at the end of the season, and had been linked with moves elsewhere, although that will probably come at the cost of losing him on a free in the summer.
Summer Ins >>> Joe Williams, 23, CM, Wigan, £1.5m >>> Chris Martin, 31, CF, Derby, Free >>> Chris Brunt, 35, LW, West Brom, Free >>> Adrian Mariappa, 34, CB. Watford, Free >>> Alfie Mawson, 26, CB, Fulham, Loan >>> Steven Sessegnon, 20, RB, Fulham, Loan
Summer Outs >>> Niclas Eliasson, 24, LW, Nimes, £2.4m >>> Sammie Szmodics, 24, AM, Peterborough, £900k >>> Rory Holden, 22, CF, Walsall, Undisclosed >>> Matty Taylor, 30, CF, Oxford, Free >>> Bailey Wright, 28, CB, Sunderland, Free >>> Korey Smith, 29, DM, Swansea, Free >>> Robbie Cundy, 23, CB, Cambridge, Loan >>> Marley Watkins, 29, RW, Aberdeen, Loan >>> Cameron Ping, 22, LB, Portsmouth, Loan >>> Hakeeb Adelakun, 24, AM, Hull, Loan >>> Kasey Palmer, 23, AM, Swansea, Loan >>> Niki Maenpaa, 35, GK, Released >>> Ashley Williams, 34, CB, Retired
Winter Ins >>> Henri Lansbury, 30, CM, Villa, Free
Winter Outs >>> Rory Holden, 22, RW, Walsall, Undisclosed >>> Joe Morrell, 23, CM, Luton, Undisclosed >>> Robbie Cundy, 23, CB, Gillingham Loan >>> Joe Wollacott, 24, GK, Swindon, Loan
Where is the team strong and weak?
We have a lot of experience throughout and in the likes of Daniel Bentley, Tomas Kalas and others a defence that, on paper at least, looks strong. We've talked about the two up-front - both 13-20 goal a season men who should be capable of scoring a few goals, and yet we often struggle. My view is the midfield is a bit weaker than it needs to be, which affects us at both ends of the pitch. We've sold or released Marlon Pack, Korey Smith and Josh Brownhill in the last two years and arguably not replaced any of them with equivalent or better players. All three also had leadserhip skills which have seemed missing for large parts of this season too.
How do you see the rest of the season going?
It's anyone's guess to be honest, but what we've seen the last four games suggests it will at least be more enjoyable than it has been for large parts of the season, in defeat or victory. I suspect we'll meander around mid-table, finishing somehere between 10-13th.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @TheExiledRobin
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