Since losing 3-1 to Leeds on the first weekend of the season, Bristol City have bounced right back into contention and haven’t lost a league game since. How happy is Lee Johnson after such a satisfying start?
I think he’s probably very happy because the backdrop is that they’ve had a horrendous catalogue of injuries. It’s not necessarily that they’ve had a huge amount but it’s who they’ve lost and it’s been a lot of the key players; the big one recently was Benik Afobe, who’s picked up an ACL injury and is, basically, out for the season. He’d been in great form, made a huge difference to the team in the way that they played and he’s going to be an absolutely massive loss. They lost club record signing Tomas Kalas a couple of weeks ago, who is a key organiser in defence, and club captain Bailey Wright has been out with a long-term injury as well. They’ve also lost Hungarian defensive midfielder Adam Nagy and the annoying thing with him was that he was due to come back a week or two ago but he was pushed into action for Hungary during the international break and that’s exasperated the ankle injury he already had, meaning he couldn’t play the next couple of games. In light of all the injuries, I think Lee Johnson is very happy with how they are doing. They haven’t lost a game since Leeds and that’s the only game where they’ve probably been outclassed. There’s certainly a lot of positive signs.
As you mentioned, the club lost Benik Afobe for the rest of the season, due to the on-loan striker suffering a major knee injury in training. How much of a blow is that to their plans for the season?
It’s massive and I think it’s probably a real psychological blow for the squad as well. He’d been taken in by the guys here and I felt, personally, he was getting on well with several of the players, including a real ‘bromance’ he’d developed off and on the pitch with Kasey Palmer. Palmer was one of three signings from Chelsea in the summer and he was regularly picking out Afobe on the pitch with through-balls. City haven’t really had a striker who’s had the pace, power and movement to make the most of Palmer’s vision and passing. That was probably one of the most promising things this season and it’s been ripped away, unfortunately. They are going to have to look at how the team is set up now, but I don’t think Lee Johnson now knows how he exactly wants to proceed. For example, the natural replacement is Famara Diedhiou, who came in against Stoke and scored but was then dropped for the game against Swansea. It looks as though he might experiment with a few things and we might continue to see that over the next few weeks.
Daniel Bentley made the move from Brentford to Bristol City at the end of June - how has the stopper fared in his first few months at Ashton Gate?
He’s been brilliant, he really has. He’s definitely in Bristol City’s two or three best players this season. We were talking about him in the post-Swansea press conference actually because he pulled off a really, really vital save at a key point in the game to deny Andre Ayew, who was through one-on-one. He’s pulled off several big saves this season - the chances where you’d expect the striker to score – which he probably didn’t have a right to and he’s kept City in games as a result. Likewise, up at Stoke there was a big save to deny James McClean. A lot of fans have been wanting a goalkeeper to come in whose distribution was better than long-serving Frank Fielding and I think everybody recognises that Bentley is providing that. People down this way think he’s been a brilliant capture.
Who has been the standout player for the Robins so far this term?
Probably Josh Brownhill, who has been the most consistent player. He’s the on-field captain at the moment because there are a few players out and he’s just a key central midfielder. He’s a box-to-box man who plays an integral role in pushing City forward and is just a typical all-action midfielder, really.
How are Bristol City likely to set-up on Wednesday?
I should probably clarify this: The experimenting will probably affect how they set-up at home. Away from home they’ve been excellent and, in fact, at the time of speaking, they’ve got the second-best record away from home this season, just behind Leeds. They haven’t had any problems and I think the stats suggest that, over the period of 2019, nobody has got more wins on the road than Bristol City. They’ve got a good system where they play three at the back and Ashley Williams has come in recently and he’s played well in the last few weeks. They play with two wing-backs, three across the middle and then two up front, usually Andreas Weimann and Benik Afobe, though it will be Weimann and Diedhiou from now. Because that’s worked so well for a while, I very much doubt he’ll move away from that on the road.
What's you score prediction for the game?
The recent meetings between these two have been close but Bristol City won the last game at Griffin Park, which was their first win there in nine years. I fancy City to get something from this one so I’ll go for a score draw – 2-2.
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