Bristol City now have firepower to get out of some sticky situations
EAGER to alter perceptions after a season of internecine struggle, Bristol City's marketing men sought to re-brand the club during the summer.
As a consequence, Ashton Gate and its surrounds are now liberally festooned with an array of glossy posters featuring various players complete with the slogan "Let us entertain You!"
Such an assertion might well have induced sniggers and wry smiles when the Robins opened their campaign with a battling, yet ultimately sterile, 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest.
Since then, it seems, the penny has dropped and Derek McInnes's improving team appears to be living up to its new, bold billing.
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Indeed, weight of goals – seven games have yielded a grand total of 28 – suggests City are fast becoming the npower Championship's great entertainers.
Having found the back of the net on 11 occasions in three extraordinary home games against Crystal Palace, Cardiff City and Blackburn Rovers, the Robins have now discovered a route to goal away from Ashton Gate, beating Peterborough 2-1 at London Road and then twice coming from behind to salvage a point from a marvellously entertaining contest against Gianfranco Zola's Watford at Vicarage Road.
Watford's new-look squad represents a veritable united nations of talent. The former Chelsea and Parma legend has assembled arguably one of the most technically accomplished squads in the English second tier. These Hornets summoned pace, invention, clever movement off the ball and eye-catching skill.
It says much about the progress made by City under the management team of McInnes and Tony Docherty that they did not look out of place in this company and matched their opponents in every department to claim a thoroughly-deserved point.
Of course, City's transformation from plodders to entertainers is no accident. Majority shareholder Steve Lansdown and the club's board of directors have made funds available for new signings and McInnes has spent it wisely in the transfer market.
If goals were hard to come by last season, that is certainly no longer the case and the manager now has a wealth of attacking options at his disposal. A glance at City's bench at Vicarage Road proved the point.
Trailing to James Wilson's unfortunate own goal early in the second half, the Robins were in need of a pick-me-up. It arrived in the form of midfield schemer Neil Kilkenny, who took up a position just behind the strikers to help initiate a revival.
He was involved in both City's goals, the second of which was claimed by Steven Davies, another attacking substitute.
Desperate to avoid a repeat of last week's at-the-death debacle against Blackburn, McInnes then introduced the steadying influence that is Jody Morris to ensure City protected what they already had. Few such options were available to the manager last season and, once behind, the Robins invariably struggled.
But that was then, this is now. Twice Watford took the lead and twice City responded, coming back strongly to equalise in a manner which suggests they at last possess the necessary firepower to extract themselves from sticky situations.
That said, City were slow out of the starting blocks and owed half time parity to a series of fine saves from goalkeeper Tom Heaton, another summer acquisition.
Inexplicably, the visitors stood off in midfield, admired Watford's craft and allowed their opponents the time and space in which to express themselves. Had the Hornets possessed a striker with the predatory instincts of City's Sam Baldock, they could easily have been out of sight at the halfway point.
City proved instantly more effective after the break, closing down their opponents and earning the right to play further up the field.
If both sides threatened goals, the flipside of that particular coin was that both were vulnerable in defence to quick counter-attacks and City fell behind when Wilson, under extreme duress from substitute Troy Deeney, turned Marco Cassetti's low centre past Heaton.
In the spirit of 'anything you can do I can do better', teenage left-back Joe Bryan surged past a stunned Cassetti to deliver an equalising goal for Marvin Elliott, the midfielder rising unchallenged to head a wonderful cross beyond former Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia.
The decision to replace the injured Greg Cunningham with Academy product Bryan proved a sound one, the 19-year-old defending stoutly for the most part and demonstrating a refreshing readiness to launch swift raids down the left flank.
By now, the contest was probably far too open for the liking of McInnes and City's vulnerability to straight balls played down the middle of the pitch, highlighted so ruthlessly by Blackburn the previous week, was again exposed when Vydra shrugged off Liam Fontaine to slide the ball beneath Heaton and restore Watford's lead.
Back came City and when Richard Foster's deep cross was controlled by Baldock and Ryan Taylor's shot came back off Fitz Hall, there was Davies, in the right place at the right time, to sweep home his first goal since arriving from Derby last month.
If young Bryan was exemplary on the left side of defence, Taylor was just as influential at the other end of the pitch. The Yorkshireman boasts a deft first touch, the bodily strength to hold the ball up with his back to goal and an ability to bring team-mates into the game.
That he is keeping Jon Stead and Davies out of the starting line-up at present and Brett Pitman out of the squad altogether is no accident. Indeed, Taylor's developing partnership with Baldock suggests City fans can look forward to a lot more goals in the future.