Preview - Bristol City (a)

A wounded Norwich team limp down the M4 to Bristol with Cameron Jerome’s broadside still ringing in their ears. Robins or Canaries, who’ll win? I don’t know, so I asked @TheExiledRobin, P.S. he’s not called Robin.

Rich: I think Norwich and Bristol have a great deal in common. Our football teams have historically underachieved, we’re out on a limb and off the beaten track and ignored by the national media, but both very cool cities and when people try and do our accent they always do the other one instead. Why do you think Bristol City haven’t troubled the top division more than they have?

Not Robin: Ha ha, I like the analogy and yes, can certainly see the similarities, although you've achieved far closer to your potential in the last 25 or so years? Fundamentally I think we're a two-team city in a region that has traditionally been focused on rugby. Certainly in the 1980s/90s Bath & Bristol RFC were big players and that affected our potential in a lot of ways. People on lots of areas just didn't talk football as they do in say Liverpool, or Newcastle.

What we're trying to do now with the rebuilt stadium and set-up at Ashton Gate is to capitalise on football's massive growth spurt and put ourselves in pole position in the area. Now we just need a team and manager to do it!
 
Rich: If you build it, they will come... And you have. Works were finished on a complete refurb of Ashton Gate for the start of this season. I’ve not been since the refurb, though I did have a squizz at the 3D fly through thing on YouTube . Have they done a good job? I mean, is it still a proper football stadium like it used to be, and not a soulless soccer bowl?

Not Robin: To be fair they've done an excellent job. Largely we rebuilt existing stands, so the atmosphere remains, but added so much to the surrounding area they've made it a real match-day experience. You can now turn up three hours before the game and have something to do. There's good quality local food and drink outside and in, you can listen to a band or watch the lunchtime game in the very impressive Sports Bar with its massive screen. The concourse areas are spacious and the whole experience is much improved. From the pictures & video the media room and dressing rooms look as good as almost anywhere so all in all, a top job done! What we need now is that Premier League season or two to raise our base level of fanbase up by about 10,000 like yourselves, Derby, Sunderland, Middlesbrough et al have all done.

Rich: That sounds fantastic, glad they've retained the old atmosphere. I wish I was coming down for the game now, despite our away form.

You’ve only won 3 times since the beginning of December, haven’t won in five and slid into the relegation places after your draw with Burton on Saturday. But…Our away form is dreadful. On Saturday we got a 5-1 shellacking at Sheffield Wednesday, with recriminations on the side. We’ve only won four away games all season and have lost at Rotherham & Burton recently so if ever you wanted a team to arrive it’s us and it’s now.

We had a squeaky 1-0 win over you at the beginning of the season. It could easily have been 1-0 the other way if I remember correctly. You started really strongly that day, in fact you had a great start to the season overall. I know you sold Kodija shortly after that game, have you missed him since, is that why your form has fallen away?

Not Robin: If you can turn up with the performance that lost at Rotherham that would be very much appreciated! I'm not sure we've missed Kodjia per se, although he is a good quality player at this level. Tammy Abraham has come in and scored the goals but overall we've lost our way since the end of October, when we were flying high. We're on a dreadful run, I'm losing count of how bad but it's around 2 wins in 20, and Lee Johnson seems to have no idea of his first team, his set-up or his approach. It changes every other game and the players look like they're confused at times. Unless we can get something going very soon we're going down. Wigan away, at the weekend, might just be so critical to our short- and medium-term future that if we lose to you our owner, Steve Lansdown, will surely be forced to act and sack Johnson before Saturday. Won't he?

Rich: Sounds like his time may be close to an end, but it's fairly likely you'll get a win tomorrow I'd say, which might prolong your agony. Something's rotten with us it seems.

Not Robin: What's the feeling amongst fans about Neil, given the poor run before Christmas has been somewhat arrested, but now it looks likely again that you won't reach the play-offs this season?

Rich: Well. Suffice to say there were loud calls for his head when we were on that bad run. They quietened when we were winning again, but now they're back with a vengeance. The board backed him and I think will continue to do so, but that will be against the backdrop of ongoing acrimony, and we know where that ends.

You have some ex-Canaries in your squad. Namely; Gary O’Neill, Aaron Wilbraham & Korey Smith. How are they all doing, are they regular starters for you?
 
Not Robin: Yes, all play a big part. Wilbraham and Smith are two of the players left over from our amazing season of two years ago, when both played almost every match as we won the League One title and the JPT double. 

Albie is getting older and slower but can still do a job as he's shown since Tammy's injury in the last few weeks. He doesn't score many but he is a leader and committed. Korey Smith was arguably our best player last season but has been in and out with injuries this. He's shown signs of being back to his best in the last couple of weeks and would be a key player for us if he can get close to that.

Gaz O'Neil has, at times, shown exactly why we signed him and why some, including myself, thought he'd be almost the final piece in the jigsaw. However, fitness and injuries have again played a part and whilst he works hard and does a good job, it looks as if the years have caught up with him a touch at times, and he's a yard too slow to be as effective as we'd have liked.

Rich: I always liked Korey. Was great for us in our league 1 promotion season, but as we got promoted again the next season we left him behind a bit, was a bit too soon for him. We're lacking some leadership, so interesting that Wilbers gives you that. Important to have big personalities in your squad, that's what we're lacking.

You also hit the headlines recently with the cross-city defection of Matty Taylor - signed from Rovers. The last player we signed on a permanent basis from our bitter rivals, Ipswich, was (I think) Trevor Putney way back in the 80s. He was quickly accepted by us as he’d thrown off the dark side and was now ours. When a player goes the other way (Andy ‘Judas’ Marshall for example), we make up nasty songs about them and they’re dead to us. Has Taylor been clasped to the bosom of Robins fans, and how have the Gas Heads reacted? Can the lad go out safely in Bristol?

Not Robin: Ha ha, now that was a funny day! If you can put aside the obvious 'banter', we've signed one of the top marksmen in the football league from the last two seasons, who has a different style to our other forwards, for £300k. It's an absolute no-brainer and almost zero risk! He hasn't been involved a huge amount yet and looks another example of Johnson not really being sure what to do with all the players he's signed, but I expect him to be involved on Tuesday.

Rich: I'll bet. Nothing like ruffling the rival’s feathers. I know it's quite fierce down there.

Not Robin: I had to laugh a bit at your 15th minute applause for Ipswich. Even if they had to point out you'd been in League One during that period!

Rich: Haha. Was all good clean fun. OK. So to finish. We are in a bad place, we are fragile mentally and prone to errors. I can't predict anything other than a win for the Robins. I think you'll edge it 2-1. Can I have a prediction please and will you stay up? Yes or No answer only!

Not Robin: We've only beaten Rotherham and Fleetwood since Dec 5th! A Norwich win, I'll go a big one, 3-0 and the end of Lee Johnson. I'm gonna edge towards a yes we'll stay up still. Just!

Rich was speaking to @TheExiledRobin, who is not called Robin. You can follow him on twitter and read his excellent blog on all things Bristol City at www.exiledrobin.blogspot.com