Bristol Rugby: The only way is forward insists Middleton
LIAM Middleton believes Bristol's trip to Nottingham on Sunday is potentially a "tipping point" in his resurgent team's season.
A victory at Meadow Lane would put Bristol within touching distance of the Championship's top four, while defeat would set them back after a run of three straight victories.
Head coach Middleton, who has targeted a minimum of two wins from the three-game block against Bedford, Nottingham and Jersey, believes his team are close to be being right back on track after a difficult start.
Bristol lost three games in a row before British & Irish Cup victories over Cardiff and Ulster Ravens and last weekend's Championship win over high-flying Bedford.
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And Middleton said: "I think we're getting on track. If we can talk after the Jersey game, and we've got a Nottingham win and a Jersey win, I'd say we were starting to find the right track and move forward.
"If we lose this weekend, I don't feel we're on track yet, so I think this is probably a tipping point for us in terms of pushing on or having to keep battling on.
A win against Nottingham this weekend would be a significant boost, backing up the Bedford win and really putting us on track.
"To beat Bedford at home with a ten-point margin and limit them to one try in the game was a significant performance for us and I'm pleased with it.
"But the thing with us at the moment is that we've put that to bed – no one is mentioning the Bedford game anymore.
"We take the confidence and the good feeling from it, but we're moving on now and we know we can't dwell on anything."
Bristol's 23-13 win over Bedford put them within three points of fourth-placed Plymouth Albion – but Middleton believes it may take a while for his side to propel themselves firmly back into the play-off mix.
"I think it will take four or five wins to get right up there but you can see, at this stage of the season, that one win for you and a couple of losses for teams above you can really catapult you up there," he said.
"That was the case last year, too, and I think Cornish Pirates went from ninth to fourth in two games. The key thing for us now is not focusing too much on the league table.
"But everything has been about Bedford, Nottingham and Jersey for us – if we can get two or even three wins out of three, we're back in the game.
"Everything has been about these performances – and I think that probably showed in the quality of the performance against Bedford."
This weekend, Bristol are likely to come up against Dan Montagu – who was surprisingly released by the club, two months after signing a new deal, in the summer.
And while Middleton would not talk about the forward, who played mainly as a No 8 at Bristol but has been used to good effect in the second row at Meadow Lane, the emergence of Mitch Eadie has ensured the Australian has barely been missed.
"You might have said at the end of last season that Mitch would be an academy player and would play a bit of British & Irish Cup this season," said Middleton of the local 20-year-old. "But he's now our starting No 8 and he's earned his shirt."