In hope, not expectation

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After the promise and excitement of last year’s pre-season build up, this year’s has been decidedly muted.

Instead of a (supposedly) world class goalkeeper fresh from the ‘Greatest Show on Earth ™’, we have signed another striker from League Two with a questionable scoring record. Instead of the big name manager we’d been waiting for to take us one better than Gary Johnson did, we’ve struggled to sign players, being beaten to them by low level Premiership sides and even Championship sides who are at a similar level to the Robins. These factors have combined to keep my (and most City fans I know) feet planted firmly on the ground. The prospects for this season are in sharp contrast to those of last.

Albert Adomah was one of the few star performers in an otherwise ordinary team last season, and so far it seems like we’ll retain him. By the end of the season, he had a reputation as a danger man and as a result, had more than one person marking him in the final few games. This would be no problem at all if we had someone who was able to make use of the spare man and stretch the play. However, last season we were sadly lacking. The recruitment of Yannick Bolasie from Plymouth Argyle could well be the remedy for this. It also helps that he is mates with Albert Adomah’s, having played together at Barnet. They even devised their own goal celebration, which you can watch here. Here’s hoping we see that many times this season.

Speaking of goals and celebrations, goals were a commodity in short supply last time around, with only Brett Pitman reaching double figures in the league. We desperately rely on Nicky Maynard to be in some sort of form, and in some sort of fitness. His fortunes mirror that of the team’s, most obviously when he was injured for the majority of the season and we struggled. Unsurprisingly, when he came back, he scored 6 goals in 11 starts, no mean feat in the championship. He has been the target of several clubs recently, including Steve McClaren’s Nottingham Forest and Sven Göran Erikson’s Leicester City.

The fact that two former England managers are after him just shows how highly rated he is at this level. I think many fans are resigned to losing him, but if we lose him we should receive a decent sum; however this needs to be invested into the defence. We only have one natural left back, and Nicky Hunt and Louis Carey just couldn’t deal with pace at right back. We relied on our nineteen-year-old loan signing Steven Caulker to provide some defensive stability at centre back, but he’s been sent to Swansea for next season. He was always going to go on to bigger things, and I think I speak for the majority of city fans in wishing him good luck in the future.

The one place in our team that is no cause for concern is our central midfield – Marvin Elliot, Cole Skuse, Lee Johnson and new signing Neil Kilkenny would make most championship sides – creative, all action, box to box midfielders that can pass and tackle. This is a good spine upon which to build upon, but more needs to be done to strengthen in other parts of the team.

I think that the current situation and mentality is probably better for the side than the unrelenting optimism that surrounded them last season. There are fewer expectations for us to do well, having last effectively challenged for the playoffs in our first season back in the division, in 2007/2008, four years ago. There can be no excuses of a ‘managerial shake-up’ rocking the team (unless Keith Millen does something drastically wrong, which I highly doubt). A better start than last season is crucial, as we spent most of last season mired in the relegation battle, until the return of Nicky Maynard put us back on track.

With a few new additions to the squad, and some luck with injuries, we should be looking at a top half finish. And if we’re really lucky, we might just be in with a shout for the play-offs!

Written by Joe Walford, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City Blogger

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