PREVIEW: Bristol City vs Middlesbrough
Bristol City goalkeeper Tom Heaton has spoken for the first time about an unshakeable bond of trust between head coach Sean O’Driscoll and his players.
Appointed successor to the sacked Derek McInnes in January, the former Doncaster and Nottingham Forest manager has inspired a marked upturn in fortunes since arriving at Ashton Gate, presiding over a return of 14 points from 10 games that has raised the prospect of the Robins retaining their Championship status this season.
Very much his own man, O’Driscoll has employed tried and trusted methods to empower his players and recent performances bear little or no resemblance to many of those suffered by hard-pressed supporters during the first half of the campaign.
Currently enjoying their longest unbeaten run of the season, City go into tomorrow’s home game against play-off contenders Middlesbrough in positive mood following victory over Barnsley and back-to-back goalless draws against Blackpool and Brighton.
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So dramatic has been the improvement wrought by O’Driscoll, that many onlookers have felt the need to question what was happening before his arrival. But rather than look back at the McInnes era, Heaton prefers to focus on the here and now and, in an exclusive interview with The Post, he offers a fascinating insight into the head coach’s methodology.
“We’ve reached the point where we absolutely trust what he is telling us,” revealed the former Manchester United keeper.
“It is all about new ideas and his are different to anything I have experienced before, which has been refreshing and enjoyable.
“The organisational factor is central to everything we do. It is simple, but it is also very effective and I think everyone has taken to it. It is certainly different to what I have been used to, but it is also excellent and it has worked very well so far.
“What he has done is given the team a foundation upon which it can build and move forward. In short, he has given us a great chance of getting out of trouble and climbing the table.”
So profound has O’Driscoll’s influence been that Heaton and Co are approaching tomorrow’s showdown with Tony Mowbray’s Boro with the utter conviction that they can prevail in a contest between two teams separated by 18 points and 16 places.
Heaton stressed: “The key is seeing what he preaches being put into practice. Once you see that it works, you can begin to buy into it totally.
“That in turn breeds confidence, because you can see an end product and you can see the ideas being translated into results. That is important, because it means you can believe in the things you are doing.
“He had only been in a couple of days when we played at Leeds and he spoke to us about a few things. We discussed ideas and, although he wanted the players to take responsibility, he sowed the seeds of thought straight away.
“Even after that first game, we could see what he was on about and where he was coming from. It was from that point onwards that we all realised we would give ourselves a chance if we bought into it. He knows what he is on about.”