Early-season optimism is in danger of disappearing for City
DEREK McInnes must be heartily sick of repeating himself whenever he addresses the media these days.
Once again, Bristol City's manager emerged from a subdued dressing room to take questions from the press pack following a defeat, and once again he enunciated his belief that his team is close to being able to compete with the very best the Championship has to offer.
Taken at face value, the league table suggests little has changed over the previous 12 months. Firmly lodged in the relegation zone when McInnes first arrived at Ashton Gate in October 2011, the Robins find their standing scarcely improved a year on.
Yet those who watch City on a regular basis will appreciate just how much things have really altered since the dark days of last season.
Bridal hand tied bouquet (Roses)
2 Bridesmaids (Roses)
Groom & Best Man button holes (Roses)
Discounted rates apply to larger Bridal party requests.
Not to be used with any other offer.
Contact: 0117 2448228
Valid until: Tuesday, December 31 2013
City boast an improved squad, one offering the manager more options than he has enjoyed at any time since coming south. He finally has his backroom staff of choice in place and a board of directors who are prepared to back his judgment in the transfer market. And City's performances, by and large, are much improved in some respects.
Yet a depressing sequence of five games without a win has served to dilute early-season optimism and a second successive defeat on the road has left McInnes and his players looking anxiously over their shoulders at the relegation zone.
That said, it is easy to see where the Scot is coming from when says there is more right than wrong with his revamped team.
The line between success and failure in the English second tier is a fine one and McInnes is quite right when he insists City are more competitive than a year ago. It should also be noted that their last two outings have been away from home against an expensively-assembled Bolton side that has only recently vacated the Premier League and Leicester, a club that appears eminently well-equipped to reach the top-flight sooner rather than later.
Nonetheless, McInnes is nobody's fool and he will hardly need reminding that he operates within a result-driven business. Unless encouraging performances can be translated into points, and quickly, his words of optimism may well begin to sound misplaced. Back-to-back home games against Burnley and Hull offer a potential route to short-term salvation and now is not the time for players or supporters to become disheartened and lose faith in the methods deployed by the manager and his staff. More than anything, a united front is essential if this squad of players is to realise its undoubted potential and restore lost pride to West Country football.
Because this team is so much more competitive than the one presided over by Keith Millen at the start of last season, McInnes still has time on his side. And when the dust has finally settled on a tumultuous contest in east Lancashire, those City fans who witnessed it will surely acknowledge an improvement of sorts.
You have to feel sorry for the back five of goalkeeper Tom Heaton, full-backs Richard Foster and Liam Fontaine and centre-halves Louis Carey and Stephen McManus, because they did not deserve to be on the losing side.
Singled out for more than their share of criticism in recent weeks, City's defenders did all that was asked of them and more at the Reebok Stadium, demonstrating remarkable fortitude and physical bravery to repel wave after wave of attack by a Bolton side laden with Premier League quality.
If the Robins have been a touch flaky in and around their own penalty area this season, that was certainly not the case here as new loan signing McManus, in particular, repeatedly put his body on the line in a quest to deal with a succession of high balls hoisted into the mix.
If there were defensive shortcomings on this occasion, they were to be found further forward and those in midfield and attack must shoulder their share of the blame for the second-half goals that enabled the Trotters to recover from a 2-0 deficit and transform potential defeat into a glorious victory that seemed improbable when Steven Davies scored twice in the opening 20 minutes.
Utterly confounded by the outstanding Chris Eagles, Carey may have been responsible for conceding the free-kick that handed Bolton's best player an opportunity to put his side back in contention 14 minutes before half time, but those in front of him were at fault for the unchecked runs that saw Jay Spearing equalise on 62 minutes and fellow midfielder Martin Petrov deliver a dramatic winner eight minutes from time.
Yet to keep a single clean sheet so far this term, City must find a way to defend better as a team and eradicate individual errors if promising performances are not to be squandered in future.
Changes in personnel are part of the solution and the arrival of the doughty McManus will undoubtedly improve the back four in the weeks and months to come.
In the meantime, City must do more to disrupt enemy supply lines. After making a wonderful start to this game, the visitors did not do enough to deny Bolton the steady supply of possession that encouraged the home side in the belief that they could stage a stirring fightback.
Until that particular problem is addressed, Davies and his fellow strikers will continue to contribute goals in a losing cause.
City fans are finally seeing the best of the 24-year-old Liverpudlian, whose opening goal would have graced any league in the world.
Having displayed outrageous skill, the former Derby man then summoned the confidence needed to double City's lead from the penalty spot after Martyn Woolford's progress had been illegally impeded by USA defender Tim Ream.
Ordinarily, that should have been quite sufficient to see off opponents who have flattered to deceive since returning to the Championship.
But make no mistake, Bolton are better than their league position suggests and it will come as no surprise to this correspondent if they are in the promotion frame come the end of the season.
As for City, the players know what it is they need to do if they are to climb the table and save their manager from having to repeat himself whenever a microphone is thrust beneath his chin.