Nottingham Forest loss has certainly been Bristol City’s gain with Sean O’Driscoll (and Greg Cunningham, Paul Anderson and Brendan Moloney). After leaving the club on Boxing Day after he had guided them to a 4-2 victory over Leeds and one point off the play-offs, many Forest fans were left bewildered by the decision. He mulled over other job offers, before declaring City to be “a good fit” and started work at BS3 five games ago.
Those 5 games have yielded two away defeats, but more importantly three home victories. The fright of playing at Ashton Gate has disappeared from the playing staff, and the fans are enjoying their Saturday afternoons again. In many home games before O’Driscoll’s arrival, City were out of the game by half time. Leaking goals for fun, the shape of the team was nowhere to be seen, shipping goals left right and centre. Now three wins have brought two clean sheets with them, reward to goalkeeper Tom Heaton who has been largely blameless for the lack of clean sheets previously.
The big difference in results has been how individuals are preparing for games. Mentally more than physically. When possession is lost to opponents, the whole team seem to know what their job is. It’s not rocket science either. Closest player puts pressure on the ball, whilst surrounding players get goal side and recover. Recovering goal side of the ball makes it so much harder for teams to play through you, meaning less goal scoring chances being created, simple hey?!
The thing that should be encouraging City fans most is the squad. O’Driscoll has lost key players to injury and international commitments, a strain on any side, let alone one currently occupying a place in the drop zone. Legendary stalwart Louis Carey came in to help his friend Liam Fontaine and suddenly there was a partnership in the centre of defence. When Carey was ruled out injured for the Forest game, many feared his replacement, Lewin Nyatanga, would fall into the bad habits of conceding goals and not adhering to the discipline of keeping your shape in a much structured team. There was no need to worry at all, Nyatanga fitted back in as snuggly as a glove on a cold winters day.
All players are deserving of a mention, but Jon Stead more than most. The much travelled Stead has now played more games for City than any of his previous clubs, testament to the love being afforded to him on the terraces of Ashton Gate. His hard working nature has made him a cult hero with the fans, but he is far more than just a workhorse. He leads the line and scores his share of goals, but encourages others in leading by example. The chant “Stead will tear you apart again” can be heard ringing around the East End every time he makes a dash into the opposition half, lifting the atmosphere inside a tense stadium. With Sam Baldock and Steven Davies nursing niggling on off injuries, Stead and the raw and promising Wes Burns will have their part to play over the coming months.
Lastly a shout out to Marvin Elliott. The big midfielder has had his critics this season, and like Nyatanga, fans were cautious when seeing his name on the team sheet in a depleted midfield. Big Marv rose to the occasion in fine fashion, a towering header was the all important game changer and he got around the pitch like his old self. All this is even more impressive when you consider he was playing in Mexico at 2:30am on Thursday morning for Jamaica. Quite an achievement one would think.
So can we play at home every week? I don’t think the footballing authorities would allow that sadly. With away games at runaway leaders Cardiff and promotion chasing Crystal Palace in the next two games, this would be a perfect time to prove that City can play away too.
Written by Lee Molland, We Are Going Up’s Bristol City Blogger
Lee tweets at @Molls28