LEROY ROSENIOR: Bristol City's Sean O'Driscoll and Bristol Rovers' John Ward have overseen a return to basics
IT makes a refreshing change to be able to talk positively about the recent fortunes of both Bristol clubs this week. Following very disappointing seasons for both teams, at last, it seems, there is a semblance of hope on both sides of the river.
Back-to-back victories for both teams in there last two games are small victories in the context of what both are trying to achieve between now and the end of the season – but it is certainly a start.
The two sides also lifted themselves off the foot of their respective divisions this week and, although still firmly entrenched in relegation battles, the psychological boost this will have inside both camps cannot be underestimated.
The obvious answer to the question of how this improvement has come about is that both clubs have installed new managers in the last month or so – but it is how both John Ward and Sean O'Driscoll have gone about their business that is the key to recent turnarounds in fortunes.
The common denominator is that both managers have gone back-to-basics by giving their players simple and clear instructions designed to make protecting their own goal the first priority.
Discipline, organisation and focusing on keeping 'shape' has been the order of the day and it came as no surprise to me that City managed to keep their first clean sheet in 32 games in a 2-0 win over Watford on Tuesday night – even if Gianfranco Zola's decision to leave his two top goalscorers on the bench was puzzling to say the least.
I think it showed a lack of respect to City and Zola was quite rightly punished for that, even if Sean's players had to defend stoutly for long periods of the game to get what some may describe as an ugly win.
Who cares, though? An ugly win is always better-looking than a defeat!
Rovers victory at Rotherham United was slightly more eye-catching by all accounts, but John's side had to do their fair share of digging in when they were under the cosh for the opening 25 minutes or so before going on to carve out the classic counter-attacking away-day victory.
John has had the luxury of adding a couple of players – including a very good goalkeeper in Steve Mildenhall – to his squad in a bid to strengthen a problem area of the team that had been shipping goals for fun since the opening day of the season.
Sean hasn't, as yet, been able to do that and has had to rely on the players he inherited – but yet again when the going gets tough, who better to call on than Louis Carey to lead you out of a hole?
On Tuesday night, Louis again rolled back the years with a great performance in the game against Ipswich suggesting to me that he may be just as important in the relegation battle to come as he was in the one that ended successfully in Championship survival at the end of last season.
We can talk about technical ability and pace all day long, and, yes, of course it is important to have players with these traits if you are going to be a successful team – but you also need the leadership, experience and a desire not to lose games that characters like Louis provide in abundance.
Let's not get carried away. It is still going to be a long hard road that both teams have to tread over the remainder of the season. Whether or not either team avoids relegation – particularly in City's case – will probably go down to the wire.
It is starting to close up again at the bottom of the Championship as teams like Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday and City have improved in recent weeks.
It looked at one point as though five or six teams were beginning to get cut adrift from the rest – but now sides around and below 16th-placed Bolton will be looking over their shoulder again.
Rovers, meanwhile, can boost their own survival chances even further by climbing out of the bottom two for the first time in a number of weeks if they are celebrating a third victory on the bounce come the final whistle of their basement battle against Barnet at the Memorial Stadium tonight.
However well Rovers played in what were unquestionably very difficult-looking games to win at Fleetwood and Rotherham, I feel this one will be the toughest of the three.
The two victories away from home have served to raise expectations among supporters, but Rovers really had nothing to lose in those games.
This one on Friday night is a different animal altogether in that Rovers are the home team and will be expected to win the game.
It will be interesting to see how the players will react to that situation.
Let's not forget, either, that Barnet are an improving team themselves as John pointed out when warning against complacency earlier this week.