Really, really hate to say I told you so…

Bristol City v Reading - Npower Championship

So, after being too uninspired and apathetic about the mediocrity of Bristol City’s start to the season, I have now dropped into a black pit of despair over the course of this week. The problems that I highlighted in my first blog have all come true at the same time in the worst ways imaginable. Our lack of cover in defence has come back to haunt us – with Liam Fontaine out and Louis Carey looking less and less like a Championship player, our back four of Jordan Spence (21 years old), Lewin Nyatanga (23), James Wilson (22) and Ryan McGivern (21) lacks experience and leadership.

Our squad is paper thin too, with few senior players available to cover the defence. Our “world-class” goalkeeper David James has justified his nickname “calamity” this week (he was at fault for all three goals against Reading, spilling a cross straight to Jobi McAnuff, parrying one into the path of Adam le Fondre and he should have done better against Mathieu Manset’s flick). Our capitulation at the hands of Reading on Tuesday and to Blackpool on Saturday shows how much we lack confidence and belief in the team, because the fans at Ashton Gate are incredibly quick to turn against them; as soon as the opposition score, a number of fans around me say “right, that’s it, we’ve lost” and suchlike.

“Playing a six foot three striker (Jon Stead) on the wing because you’re a tactical genius” was one of the pages that showed up on my Facebook page last week, and you can see why. The frustration at Ashton Gate is visible, even from the (usually docile) Dolman stand. Normally, I have a lot of time for our manager, due to his commitment to the club (Keith Millen has been at the club since 1999) and the fact that he has come in as caretaker-manager twice to stave off the threat of relegation (once from League Two, the horror). However, this was as caretaker-manager, and he has ruled himself out of the running for the full-time manager’s job both times. The last time was only a year ago, and who’s to say that he’s progressed – tactically and personally – enough to take on the job on a full-time basis? From what we’ve seen this season, he seems unable to.

Six hours without a goal is bad enough away, but it seems unthinkable at home, surely? Not for City, it ain’t. You could blame this on the players, and their lack of ability, but the amount of cash wasted on players that had previously been effective at this level is extortionate for their performances – Jon Stead was once tipped for future greatness with England, Nicky Hunt has made over a hundred appearances in the Premier League, Damion Stewart was a stalwart in a “#decent” (as a certain Mr Barton would say) QPR side… and yet our defence remains leaky. These players undoubtedly have the talent to be playing in such a good league, but they are being played in a style and a formation that doesn’t suit them. Jon Stead being played on the wing is just one of these mishaps, others being Nicky Maynard (who scored 20 goals two seasons ago, playing off another striker) being played up front on his own in a 4-5-1 formation, taking off Jamal Campbell-Ryce (who had our best chances in the Brighton match) and bringing on yet another over-elaborate winger with little end product, Martyn Woolford. Sadly, he’s another player who seems ineffective, but then again he is rarely given a chance.

I wish my tone in this blog could be more upbeat and able to take positives even from our losses, but I’m afraid that they are few and far between. I’m unsure that we’ll see the customary bouncing around the ground this season that is normally so endemic when the good times roll at the gate. We have already become mired in a relegation tussle, but I worry that we lack the squad strength and ability to escape it. Our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is a massive worry as well. I have a feeling that there is a long, hard season ahead of us.

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

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