Away form could make or break Bristol City's season
By Ron Walker
The upturn in form since Sean O’Driscoll’s arrival is exactly what the Bristol City board, after their swift and decisive appointment, would have wanted from the new man. The irritating efficiency with which City’s relegation rivals have pulled similar results out of the woodwork might not have been part of the plan, however.
Since day one, O’Driscoll has made it clear his priorities lie with ‘processes’ rather than ‘outcomes’, to use the head coach’s own terminology. He is less concerned by wins and results, and more by the manner in which they are earned. While most coaches will tell you they relish 3 o’clock on a Saturday, he makes his dislike of matchdays crystal clear. He is certainly not your everyday, run of the mill rent-a-quote gaffer. But with ten games left, and more unlikely results for the teams around City in midweek, something is needed fast.
No one could argue with home form that saw O’Driscoll pick up more points in his opening four home games than McInnes’ City had in 14, and which has since continued in similar vein. But for all the goals and clean sheets in Bristol, City are still bottom of the league. The second best home form in the Championship is proving not enough. With that in mind, a solitary point on the road since before Christmas is a major concern. City are yet to score a goal on their travels under the new head coach, and instead have Ben Nugent and Jonathan Parr to thank for their generous contributions.
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They have, undoubtedly, become a more solid unit since O’Driscoll’s appointment. Sound bites from players about his organisational skills can easily be passed off as football rhetoric, but five clean sheets from 11 speak for themselves. Away from home City have also improved defensively but failed to reap the rewards, Blackpool the first team to draw a blank against City on their own soil in almost a year. Even then, a small debt must be owed to a pitch so bad it kept the Championship’s best player quiet throughout.
If keeping clean sheets is a problem on the road, City need to start scoring goals. Since Jon Stead’s equaliser at Milwall on New Year’s Day, six games have passed without registering for themselves. Looking beyond the ‘outcomes’ to the ‘processes’, only Paul Anderson’s effort at Blackburn sticks in the memory as a gilt-edged chance that deserved more, alongside Davies’ harshly ruled-out finish at Blackpool.
O’Driscoll was determined to focus on the positives after the defeat at Selhurst Park a few weeks ago, praising City’s defensive organisation against the guile of Bolasie, Murray and Zaha. And to a certain extent you have to agree. Perhaps a more pressing concern might be that of a Palace defence who remained untroubled all evening, as City huffed and puffed, moved the ball around well, but never threatened until Parr’s inexplicable finish into his own late on.
How you go about improving City’s away form is anyone’s guess. But goals are unlikely to follow without creativity, something the current squad doesn’t exactly possess in spades. Marvin Elliott and Liam Kelly have certainly proved their worth for the new regime, but they’re unlikely to be pinging too many incisive 40-yard balls around or playing Sam Baldock in off the last defender.
Could the forgotten man, Neil Kilkenny, prove the difference? Should he produce a few more repeat performances after his reintroduction last weekend, constantly at the heart of City’s good work and the architect in both goals, he could be a real thorn in the side of a few teams in the run-in. Weeks after training with the reserves and presumably foreseeing the end of his Ashton Gate career, it might just prove a fairytale ending if the diminutive midfielder can play a key role in a City survival story.
Ron Walker, 21, is studying for an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at News Associates in Wimbledon. He regularly attends Bristol City matches both home and away.