PREVIEW: Bristol City vs Ipswich Town
BRISTOL City's home form between now and May will, in all likelihood, determine in which division the Robins are playing their football next season.
Certainly, a dramatic improvement is required if Championship status is to be retained and an unwanted return to League One averted.
So far this term, the Robins have lost eight times on home soil, mustering a meagre return of 11 points from a possible 39 on offer at Ashton Gate.
That particular record of under-achievement serves to put the upcoming home fixture against Ipswich Town into sharp focus.
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The first of back-to-back games in BS3 – Watford visit three days later – tomorrow's showdown represents a potentially crucial juncture of City's season.
Seven points adrift of safety at the foot of the table, the Robins have 19 games in which to stave off the threat of relegation. Ten of those matches are at Ashton Gate and it seems reasonable to argue that the outcome of fixtures against Ipswich, Watford, Nottingham Forest, Barnsley, Brighton, Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton, Birmingham and Huddersfield will seal their fate one way or the other.
It remains to be seen whether new head coach Sean O'Driscoll, pictured, can effect a transformation in fortunes at Ashton Gate in time to save City from the drop.
But the Midlander is in no doubt as to the size of the task he has undertaken and he acknowledges playing in front of their own supporters has become a problem for City's players. O'Driscoll told The Post: "No one game is any more important than another. They are all important.
"But we know it will be more difficult for them at Ashton Gate, because they have not won many times there.
"We heard the crowd get restless at Leeds when things were not going their way (last Saturday) and that is something we are going to experience when we play at home.
"If we can keep doing the things we did in the last match and give the players something they can do, wherever they are and no matter what the situation is, the supporters will see they are trying to do the right things and get behind them. If they seem the same work-rate and commitment, they will be more likely to accept the performance regardless of the result.
"We understand supporters can become disgruntled at the way their team is playing and it is something we have to understand.
"As a group we need to support one another and we need the fans to be behind the players."
Although a series of heavy home defeats have given season ticket holders good reason to complain this term, those who follow the team on the road are more likely to give the players vocal backing no matter what the situation.
O'Driscoll seeks to distinguish between hard-nosed supporters who journey the length and breadth of the land and the more fickle elements who only attend home games in order to explain the additional pressures of playing at Ashton Gate.
He added: "Supporters up and down the country that travel away are usually the ones that get behind the team. I always say fans blow with the wind, but supporters support and those that travel to the away games are die-hard supporters who back the team during the 90 minutes."