Ahead of the final day of the Championship season, Bristol City sit 19th in the Championship table, albeit with a comfortable cushion between themselves and the bottom three. How would you summarise their campaign?
Pretty disastrous, to be honest. They started the season with Dean Holden in charge, which was a bit of a surprising appointment because the club had taken six weeks to decide who was going to replace Lee Johnson and the owner appeared on talkSPORT, saying that they were looking for breath of fresh air, only to appoint Johnson’s right-hand man. Subsequently, the season fell away after a good start. To be fair to Holden, he did pretty well, but by my estimations, it wouldn’t have mattered who they appointed because the injury situation has, most likely, been the worst in the whole of the EFL. There have been between 20 and 30 injuries, which basically hamstrung not only many of the players but also Holden’s chances of success and likewise Nigel Pearson since he has come in. The season almost ended in a relegation battle, despite initial hopes of being in a battle for the top six.
Pearson replaced Holden as manager midway through a run of six defeats in February and while there have only been three wins so far, there have clearly been encouraging signs, so much so that he has since signed a new three-year deal. How has he been received since his appointment?
It is a strange one because, quite rightly, a lot of the fans are asking how he has been given a new contract given the fact he hasn’t done very well since he came in. There are officially three wins since he took over, but for one of those wins he was sat in the stands at the Riverside Stadium, so you could make a strong argument for there only being two wins. He is under no illusions and has said himself that results have not been good enough. The injuries have been a real issue but it’s the strength of the playing squad as well. Morale has gone downhill and it is going to be a big job to turn it around. Most fans recognise that there is going to be a pretty big turnaround of playing staff, as well as other staff; they recently lost the CEO here and he has taken the head of performance over to Ipswich with him, they have to replace those guys. There is going to be a rebuilding exercise this summer.
He has been unashamedly frank in his assessments of City’s performances and after the 4-1 defeat to Millwall last week said: “Days like today help to make your mind up on people.” Do you expect significant changes as he moulds his squad this summer?
They have 13 to 14 players out of contract this summer, two players on loan and also Chris Brunt, who got injured halfway through the season and had his contract rescinded, so you are talking 15, 16 players straightaway. A squad of 38 has been used this season and they have given eight debuts, which I’m sure not many clubs can top. They are basically playing with kids and are not getting results because they aren’t quite ready. There will certainly be 10 to 12 players going out and the club have already said they will be recruiting, though not to the same level, so I would suggest maybe half-a-dozen coming in and a reliance on some of the better youth players who have proved themselves this year.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?
Though there aren’t too many in form at the moment, my pick of the bunch is Han-Noah Massengo. He is a teenage central midfielder, who arrived from Monaco in 2019 and has Champions League experience. The club paid quite a big fee for him and have high hopes for him still. We haven’t seen the best of him this season, but just recently he is one of the players who has stood out with his work-rate and energy in midfield. I suspect this weekend’s game is going to suit him because Brentford get the ball down and play some good football and he thrives in those kind of games.
How is Pearson likely to set up his side at Ashton Gate?
Just recently, he has gone back to 3-5-2. That’s what they used against Millwall last weekend and it probably makes the most of the playing resources they have got - they have got almost a full team out injured, as standard - so I would expect them to stick with that for this weekend.
Brentford took all three points winning by the odd goal in five in west London just over three months ago and have lost just one of the previous 13 meetings. What’s your score prediction for this one?
I can’t see it being too different, to be honest. Bristol City have been dire recently and were atrocious against Millwall last weekend, so I’m going to go for a 3-1 Brentford win and an Ivan Toney goal to break the Championship scoring record.
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