Goalless draw at Blackpool reperesents real progress for Bristol City
Do not be fooled by the npower Championship league table. Bristol City may be rock-bottom, but they remain on the right track under new head coach Sean O’Driscoll.
While the Robins were scrapping their way to a hard-fought draw at Blackpool, fellow strugglers Peterborough United were consigning them to the basement once more, courtesy of an unlikely victory over Blackburn Rovers at nearby Ewood Park.
Yet results elsewhere went City’s way and the only statistic that really matters is that O’Driscoll’s men are now just two points adrift of safety and in with a genuine chance of retaining their second tier status this season.
Just as importantly, a goalless draw at Bloomfield Road represents tangible progress for a team that had suffered six successive defeats on the road since last they gained a point away from home at Ipswich Town way back on December 22.
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Certainly, a first away clean sheet this season suggests the Robins are finally on the road to recovery.
O’Driscoll will argue that progress should be measured in terms of performance rather than outcome and he quite rightly described his team’s display as the “most consistent” since he took over in mid-January.
If City’s recent 5-3 win over Barnsley was tarnished by goals conceded, those defensive frailties were nowhere to be seen as a Blackpool side determined to deliver a first three-point haul for new manager Paul Ince was left utterly frustrated.
Detractors will no doubt claim the poor state of the Bloomfield Road playing surface served as a leveller and there is no denying a pitch that more closely resembled a beach did nothing to encourage the brand of attacking football for which the Seasiders have become renowned in recent seasons.
But then again, it hardly suited a team that had demonstrated real attacking verve themselves to score five goals last time out.
If anything, the Robins adapted to the conditions better and a point was the very least their performance warranted.
Indeed, had the goal Steven Davies had ruled out for offside midway through the second half been allowed to stand, few would have argued that the visitors did not deserve to return to the South West with all three points.
This was hardly a contest for the purists and not even Blackpool’s much-vaunted tyro, Tom Ince, was able to rise above the mundane on a pitch that rendered creative football an impossibility.
This was an occasion that demanded the more traditional English qualities of hard work, discipline and commitment to the cause, and O’Driscoll had good reason to be delighted by the manner in which his charges applied themselves to the task in hand.
City’s ability to defend as a team has improved dramatically over the past couple of months and, for all their attacking flair, Blackpool seldom appeared capable of hurting a back-line that was superbly marshalled by centre-backs Liam Fontaine and Lewin Nyatanga.
The knee injury that forced Louis Carey onto the sidelines at Blackburn last month has afforded the unheralded Nyatanga an opportunity he has seized with both hands.
Required to play out of position on the right-hand side, the left-footed Wales international has overcome that particular inconvenience to forge an effective defensive bulwark alongside Fontaine, whose return to form has done so much to initiate City’s recent transformation in fortunes.
So dominant were these two, that it seemed set-piece routines offered Blackpool’s only realistic hope of breaking the deadlock. Sure enough, centre-half Kirk Broadfoot met Barry Ferguson’s pin-point free kick with a bullet header that threatened to settle the issue in favour of the Lancashire club with 20 minutes to play, only for Robins keeper Tom Heaton to make a notable save at full-stretch.
Proving that defending starts at the front, strikers Jon Stead and Davies displayed a phenomenal work-rate that was matched by a midfield comprising the workaholic triumvirate of Marvin Elliott, Stephen Pearson and Liam Kelly, who again showed why former manager Derek McInnes signed him from Kilmarnock in January.
Paul Anderson represented City’s most likely source of a goal and he again turned in the kind of performance that justified his continued selection ahead of mercurial winger Albert Adomah.
Unfortunately for an audience that paid good money to watch, the much-maligned Bloomfield Road pitch ensured a contest that is unlikely to linger long in the memory of those who witnessed it.
If City’s players will welcome a return to Ashton Gate and a decent surface when promotion-chasing Brighton and Middlesbrough visit later this week, spare a thought for a Blackpool side that will surely have to contend with conditions that are certain to nullify home advantage between now and the end of the season.
Blackpool may be six points and several places clear of the relegation zone at this moment in time, but there is every chance they could still be dragged into trouble in the days and weeks to come.
As for City, they will take enormous encouragement from a result and performance that should serve to further bolster confidence ahead of the more exacting tasks to come.