Bristol City surprised everyone by creeping up towards the top of the Sky Bet Championship towards the end of 2017, but the New Year doesn’t seem to have brought Lee Johnson’s side much luck. Can you sum up the last few months?
They aren’t in the greatest form and I think it’s now just three wins in 17 games across all competitions. We’ve been discussing it in our office and one of the things we strongly believe is that the Wolverhampton Wanderers fixture on 30 December was a turning point in the season. They were second in the league at that point and played really well, but conceded a goal in the last second to lose 2-1 at Ashton Gate. That was a real mental hit for the squad, combined with the exploits in the Carabao Cup and the injuries that they’ve suffered, which have been pretty horrific. The physio was explaining the other day that it was one of the worst injury situations he’s ever had in football, not in terms of players out injured but in terms of the number of long-term injuries – there are around seven or eight guys who have been out for three to four months. They’ve been down to a squad of almost 18 or 19 for a large part of the season and with the cup run, they just haven’t been able to rotate players. Because of that, results haven’t been quite so good.
The Robins are just marginally outside the top six, with Middlesbrough, Millwall and Sheffield United still to play. Do you expect them to finish in the Play-Offs at this stage?
I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that they might just sneak in and take the last spot, however I know a lot of people down here are resigned to probably finishing just outside in seventh. I can understand where they are coming from because Middlesbrough are just starting to find form and have got the big-name, quality players. We think Derby County’s form will turn around a little bit as well. There’s still a few other teams that aren’t out of the pack yet, Preston North End aren’t out of it and obviously Brentford could still do it if they put a run together. I hope they might just snatch sixth place but, for that to happen, they’ll need other results to go their way.
What’s been your highlight of the season so far?
I mentioned the Carabao Cup run earlier and it would have to be beating Manchester United 2-1 at Ashton Gate in the Quarter-Final. Jose Mourinho’s team haven’t lost too many games this season and the victory equalled the club’s record in the competition by making it to the Semi-Finals. The way they played against Manchester City was probably just as good and you’ve still got seasoned football commentators talking about how they took the game to Pep Guardiola’s side in a manner that not many teams have managed this season.
Earlier in the season you said Jamie Paterson would be the player to keep an eye on, but who has been the standout performer in recent months?
You’d probably have to go for Bobby Reid. With 17 goals, he’s only one behind the top scorer in the league, Matej Vydra. I’ve been banging on about how his off-the-ball work is sensational after I saw a stat recently saying he is the top forward in the Championship in terms of tackles made. That indicates what he brings to the team from a defensive point of view, which I know a lot of managers are so keen on. He really sets the tempo for the side with his pressing; he’s a non-stop livewire forward who just never stops running and he reminds me of Luis Suarez in that respect. His goal-scoring over the last few months has really come to the fore; he’ll be a wanted man in the summer.
How is Lee Johnson likely to set up his side on Easter Monday?
He’ll probably line up with the usual 4-4-1-1 system and the team picks itself now, really. Johnson brought in a fair amount of players last summer, this January and the preceding January and it now feels like the squad is coming together. Frank Fielding will be in goal, Eros Pisano at right-back, Nathan Baker and Aden Flint in the middle and Joe Bryan at left-back. In midfield, it’ll be Josh Brownhill, Korey Smith, Marlon Pack and Jamie Paterson on the left, with Bobby Reid just behind Famara Diedhiou up front.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
It’s a tough one because I think Brentford gave City one of the best games this season - they certainly outplayed them for long periods of the game at Griffin Park. I’m going for a 1-1 draw.