Manning the man for City after oddly-timed Pearson ditching - Interview
Thursday, 9th Nov 2023 11:32 by Clive Whittingham
Liam Manning is the new manager at Bristol City after the Robins made the surprise decision to dispense with popular Nigel Pearson after a recent defeat at Cardiff - we spoke to Dave Featherstone (@FevsFootball) for the latest from Ashton Gate.
How's the season gone so far?
A right mixed bag: six wins, six defeats and three draws. Beaten the teams below us, fared less well against the teams above us. Injuries haven’t helped, numerous players adding to the two long-term injuries to Rob Atkinson and Ayman Benarous (both ACLs) that we went into the season with. On our day we’ve looked good, and even when losing by the odd goal away at both Leeds and Leicester we gave a reasonable account of ourselves, but there was an undoubted quality gap. That’s parachute payments for you.
We are pretty solid defensively, but goals have been hard to come by at the other end. That is reflected by 16 goals for and 16 against from 15 matches. We are about as mid-table as you can be - apart from being very slightly above average in the league table where we are 11th. I know most fans will say this, but we’ve probably left a few points out there on the pitch too. We are a tough team to play against when our better players are fit and available.
Bristol City in the league so far
Quite a deal of unrest of Nigel Pearson's sacking - more political/personality clash than football this one? What do you think of his departure personally?
Personally, I’m gutted. I had huge respect for the job Nige was doing. He joined with a huge mess to clear up, both financially and squad-wise. He’s done that job admirably whilst keeping us nice and safe whilst gradually moving us forward (17th 21/22, 14th 22/23). History tells us that Bristol City reset in the third tier. The fact that our owners are talking about promotion from the Championship rather than League One is a testament to how Nige (and the previous CEO Richard Gould) have turned things around. I don’t think the reasons given for his sacking washed with me and there has been a bit of a PR-Machine trying to recreate a plausible rationale after the event.
What were the highs and lows of his reign?
For me it’s a lot of different things. Bringing academy players through – Alex Scott, Antoine Semenyo, Tommy Conway, Sam Bell, Ayman Benarous, Ephraim Yeboah, no manager has does that since Terry Cooper (RIP) in the early 80s when liquidation forced him into playing the kids in tier four. If you add to those the older academy players like Max O’Leary, Zak Vyner (Players Player last season) and Cam Pring (a perennial loanee previously), he’s shaped a squad without much investment in the transfer market. Those three in particular are proof of Nige’s ability to develop all players. He’s also got more out of Nahki Wells and Andi Weimann than his predecessors too. He’s instilled a culture and team ethic that means fans see players giving their all. It’s not always been that way at the “Cosy Club”. The right culture is now ingrained.
I don’t really see any lows, but I do feel that we’ve not always got huge momentum going. We’ve struggled to create too many winning or unbeaten runs, but when we have its usually because we’ve got a fit squad and competition for places. I didn’t see Nige as perfect, but he is a skilled operator and I am massively grateful for what he’s done.
Liam Manning then, thoughts...?
I’ve never been so chilled about a manager appointment process as this one. I’m usually all over it, checking out interviews, piling through the stats to see if I can get to a view as to whether I feel the new man is going to be a good choice or not (in my eyes). But I didn’t do that this time, at least not at the rumour stage. I have done that now, hence why you’ve had to remind me of my deadline. Maybe I was grieving Nige’s departure, but I think it’s more likely to do with how the Bristol City hierarchy positioned the sacking. I think they’ve been disingenuous and have created a lot of the social media anger towards themselves.
There is misalignment and ambiguity in the words / lingo used by our hierarchy in describing what is here already, the continuation of the strategy and what they want. That is not Liam Manning’s problem, and he will get my full support, but I know many fans are underwhelmed from what I read on OTIB Forum and Twitter. The comms coming out of the club has been awful and they deserve the flack they’ve received.
As for Manning, if you want the a-typical “forward-thinking, high-pressing, modern-manager”, he’s gonna come into your thinking, especially as we move away from the role of manager to head coach. His football style is not a perfect fit to City’s current squad and their way of playing, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts and the players adapt back. But having started to write this before he was officially announced, I’ve now seen his three press conferences (club, written media and radio) and it’s fair to say I’m impressed and have a better gut feel for what he’s all about. Importantly he appears to be “Strong Principles – Flexible Solutions”. But I’ll start to form stronger views over time, not just after Saturday’s match against your lot.
I thought the Alex Scott sale would finance a real promotion push this season but it hasn't materialised so far - what did you make of the decisions made in the summer transfer window?
In my pre-season preview I thought we’d recruited well on a budget, but I was surprised after Scott was sold to hear Nige’s first comments about the budget being maxed out. Most sensible fans thought we’d add one or two and not for serious money either. But the only signing was Taylor Gardner-Hickman on loan from West Brom (option to buy) and that was to part-cover Ross McCrorie’s injury. Its left us exposed to injuries, and that is exactly what has happened. I think the budget set was too low and seems to be based more on our owner not wanting to fund losses (which he’s always done up to now) rather than on what is right budget required to start progressing towards a promotion challenge after the reset.
Ins >>> Jason Knight, 22, CM, Derby, £2m >>> Ross McCrorie, 25, DM, Aberdeen, £2m >>> Rob Dickie, 27, CB, QPR, £700k >>> Haydon Roberts, 21, LB, Brighton, Free >>> Taylor Gardner-Hickman, 21, RB, West Brom, Loan
Outs >>> Alex Scott, 20, CM, Bournemouth, £20m >>> Jay Dasilva, 25, LB, Coventry, Free >>> Taylor Moore, 26, CB, Valenciennes, Free >>> Kane Wilson, 23, RB, Derby, Undisclosed >>> Han-Noah Massengo, 22, DM, Burnley, Free >>> Tomas Kalas, 30, CB, Schalke, Free
Strong points and weak links in this team?
With the sales of Semenyo and Scott in each of the last two windows we have lost our two stars. We still have some good players, and probably a bit better first team depth from last season, but you don’t see that bit of magic in our team. It is all about graft, effort, running rather than individual quality or individual weakness. City’s weakness has been about not having quality on the bench due to injuries.
How's Rob Dickie done so far?
You probably had a bit of a chuckle three games in, when Rob got red-carded (two yellows) at home to Birmingham and your mystic qualities were playing out very quickly. For all the “can only play in a three”, “lack of pace” comments when we signed him, he’s probably been our best player. Even City fans were quoting you pre-season as he started life in BS3 playing left Centre-Back in a two and got caught against Oxford.
However, bar that aberration against Birmingham, he’s been excellent, both left alongside Zak Vyner and right alongside Kal Naismith, and even with Andy King for a couple of games. King and Dickie aren’t a centre-back combo most City fans thought they’d see this season. And that’s not forgetting two match-winning goals versus Coventry and Sheffield Wednesday, both 1-0, both from set-pieces. Still waiting for his “30-yard shitpinger” (here it comes – ed).
Revised expectations for the season?
I said 10th / 11th pre-season, and we are bang-on, despite the problems. Much will depend on how quickly Manning settles and gets his ideas across. It is unusual to take over a club in a good healthy position, so I don’t think there’s a need lower expectation, but it really is too early to predict a run on the play-offs. Ask me again in the New Year.
Links >>> Bristol City official website >>> The Exiled Robin — Blog >>> One Team In Bristol — Message Board >>> Bristol Post — Local Paper >>> One Stream In Bristol — Podcast >>> Fevs Football Analytics - Contributor's page
The Twitter @loftforwords, @fevsfootball
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