Bristol City end the decade eighth in the Championship after a comprehensive 3-0 win over Luton on Sunday – how would you summarise the season to date?
It’s been good, in the main. They are, roughly, where they want to be because their avowed ambition is to finish in the top six this season. For most of the season they’ve been there, the only negative aspect is their recent form, whereby the Luton win ended a run of four defeats in a row. Their home form hasn’t been what they’d hoped for and that’s where they really need to improve.
You mention those four successive defeats they suffered earlier this month; they’d only lost three of 20 league games before that, so what changed after a really positive start?
I think it’s because they’ve got a few young players in the team and also a fair few new players who’ve come into the first team. They had a bit of a turnaround in the summer, like most clubs, and sold some really key players, including Adam Webster and Marlon Pack. It’s taken a little bit of time for the guys who’ve come in to adjust, but I think, really, it’s the marathon of games in the Championship combined with a lack of cohesion and, ultimately, just the fact this team isn’t quite as good as it has been. They’ve been a bit lucky in matches, so they were always going to suffer defeat – it’s just the way it pans out. I don’t think it’s anything too serious because they managed to arrest that slump on Sunday but at the same time it’s probably just indicative of where they are as a side.
With the January transfer window opening on Wednesday, in which position do you feel the club could bring in some reinforcements?
They’ve been quite public on this, actually. The club’s CEO, Mark Ashton, has already said that they are looking to bring in strikers and he took part in an interview with BBC Radio Bristol where he said that they wanted to replace Benik Afobe, who has been a huge loss after that ACL injury he suffered early in the season. He was looking really good when he first arrived and scored three goals in his first five games; Lee Johnson has said to me that he felt he’d have scored 20 goals this season, so they effectively lost their main hitman. Famara Diedhiou and Andreas Weimann have done alright, but there’s no doubt he’s a huge loss. So they want forwards and we understand they actually want to bring in two forwards, ideally.
They are also in the process of tying up some out outgoing loans, including deals for Antoine Semenyo and Sammie Szmodics. Basically, they are clearing the decks, looking to bring in a couple of forwards but they have done quite a lot of business in January previously, so there might be at least two or three players coming in.
If the season was to end today, who’d be your Player of the Year?
That’s a tough one because some of the main contenders have just gone off the boil a bit recently. Probably the most consistent has been Dan Bentley, who Brentford fans obviously know really well, and he has been really superb. His form has slightly dipped in the last few games with a couple of mistakes, but he’s really been outstanding, has kept them in games and has made some great one-on-one saves. I think that’s why we’ve seen Bristol City lose a few games recently – he’s just been conceding a few more goals than he has done previously. The defence hasn’t stopped too many shots and they concede more than any other team in the division, so they do rely on a good presence there! Beyond him, maybe Josh Brownhill. He’s got Premier League clubs watching him and is a really class player.
How is Lee Johnson likely to set up his side for the first game of the year?
He flits between a 4-4-1-1 and a 5-3-2 and, of late, he’s played the former at home, chiefly because it gets Niclas Eliasson into the team and he’s probably their best player at the moment. He leads the league, equally with West Brom’s Matheus Pereira, in terms of assists, so you can argue he’s one of the most creative players in the division. However, he’s only started about five or six times this season because Johnson doesn’t play him if they play the 5-3-2 system, but he does play that system more often away from home. The only caveat I would say is that I’ve seen them play Brentford several times, play four across the middle and, consequently, Brentford have dominated the game with their three in the middle.
Ashton Gate has, largely, been a happy hunting ground for Brentford – what’s your score prediction for this one?
I think Bristol City are due for a draw as they haven’t had one in for nine games, so this one may be much like the game at Griffin Park back in October; I thought Brentford dominated that game and they were a little bit unlucky to not get the win. I can see Brentford playing well again at Ashton Gate, but there is some durability about the Robins, so I’m going to sit on the fence and say a 1-1 draw.
Tickets for tomorrow's trip to the South West have SOLD OUT. Collections will be available until 4pm on New Year's Eve from the Brentford FC Ticket Office or from Ashton Gate on matchday.