Change of tactics gives Bristol City boss McInnes that winning feeling
CREDIT where credit is due. Bristol City manager Derek McInnes was bold and brave in his team selection and tactics and saw both pay handsome dividends when it mattered most.
Criticised by some City supporters in recent weeks and under growing pressure, the Scot ran the risk of inviting further opprobrium when handing in a team-sheet that had Ashton Gate regulars scratching their heads in puzzlement.
But it quickly became evident that McInnes had done his homework on a Peterborough side that arrived in Bristol in buoyant mood after seeing off Cardiff, Bolton and Wolves in their last three Championship outings.
Having noted how Posh went about dismantling opponents who played 4-4-2, he opted for a 3-5-2 system and re-deployed a number of players in unfamiliar roles, fielding Greg Cunningham as one of three centre halves, switching Richard Foster to the left side and asking Albert Adomah to act as a right wing-back.
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Had things gone wrong in a match the Robins could ill afford to lose, McInnes would no doubt have felt the full fury of an Ashton Gate crowd that had not seen a home win since August 25.
Instead, he watched his revamped team produce, arguably, the most impressive display of attacking football seen in BS3 in many a month. On a day when the result meant far more than the performance, City not only took all three points, but did so with a swagger.
McInnes unleashed City's most creative talents and encouraged them to have a go. The result was four goals and a first home win in 10 attempts.
Detractors will point to the 11th minute dismissal of Posh striker Lee Tomlin as a turning point and there is no doubt, his sending off severely hampered the visitors. But City were already a goal to the good and firmly in charge when he saw red for elbowing Cunningham in the face.
The fact Peterborough had played on Boxing Day and City had not was another factor and it is reasonable to argue that the Robins will face far stiffer opposition between now and the end of the season. But in the final analysis, it would be churlish to try and detract from what was a scintillating performance and hugely significant result. Rather than look for shortcomings, such as the continued failure to keep a clean sheet, City fans would be better advised to bask in the long-overdue glow of a home win. Their team remains in the relegation zone, but this result and performance can only fuel optimism for a more successful 2013. Billed as the great entertainers when scoring goals for fun at Ashton Gate during the early part of the season, City's players became increasingly introverted as a string of defeats took a fearsome toll on confidence and belief.
Tentative and even fearful in recent home games against Wolves and Derby, the Robins rediscovered the art of attacking and scoring goals to delight their long-suffering supporters.
Make no mistake, there was nothing fortuitous about the outcome; determined to take the game to their opponents, City set a high tempo from the outset and conjured sufficient pace and movement to utterly unhinge a defence that has now shipped more goals than any other in the English second tier.
Anchored and guided by the intelligent Cole Skuse in midfield, City's more progressive elements expressed and enjoyed themselves in equal measure, Sam Baldock and Paul Anderson in particular revelling in the wide open spaces afforded them by opponents who had no answer to the variety and speed of the home side's attacking thrusts.
If Foster and Adomah provided regular service from wide positions, striker Jon Stead showed why his continued presence is essential if City are to move clear of trouble. His ability to hold the ball up, run the channels and play team-mates in with clever passes lent the Robins an attacking cohesiveness not seen in BS3 since early in the season.
Forced to take a back seat by the form of Martyn Woolford and the manager's strict adherence to 4-4-2 following his move from Nottingham Forest last summer, Anderson is at long last showing City fans what he is capable of.
Running on to a Baldock cross, he took his goal wonderfully well and, with greater composure in the penalty area, could easily have had a hat-trick.
But it is Baldock's return to goalscoring form that will most encourage McInnes and his staff. The cool finish that restored City's lead shortly before the interval and the penalty he converted with impressive assurance midway through the second half established the striker as the club's leading scorer with nine to his name. If he can maintain this kind of form and, perhaps more importantly, hold down a regular place in the starting line-up, the former West Ham United man could yet lead City to safety.
The fact centre-back Stephen McManus headed City's third goal from a set-piece – a rarity in recent seasons – was further cause for optimism.
Of course, there is still plenty to work on and McInnes will have been displeased by the mistakes that gifted Posh two goals. That said, all that really mattered was the result and fortune clearly favoured the brave.