PREVIEW: Huddersfield Town vs Bristol City
THE time for talking is over: Bristol City need action, not words.
Every facet of the team's recent failings has been analysed in detail by supporters, whose early-season optimism has been replaced by the kind of insidious fear that accompanies any fight against relegation.
Most discussion has centred around the concession of 28 goals in 13 Championship outings, the principal factor behind the team's position one place off the foot of the table. However, disgruntled fans, their patience tested by back-to-back home defeats at the hands of Burnley and Hull, are casting their net wider in a quest to explain the downturn.
They are questioning manager Derek McInnes, his team selection and tactics, while some are pointing the finger of blame at the players, suggesting their commitment to the cause may not be all it could be.
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With visits to Huddersfield and Birmingham up next, even diehard fans fear City may be cast adrift by the time they return to Ashton Gate to play Charlton on Sunday week. Of course, none of this is especially helpful at a time when a united front offers the best prospect of a revival.
No one is disputing the right of those who pay at the turnstiles to express their opinions – and sweeping the team's shortcomings under the carpet would serve no useful purpose. But McInnes is nobody's fool and he, more than anybody, recognises the areas in which City must improve if a repeat of last season's struggle for survival is to be avoided.
Talk of replacing the manager is ridiculously premature and betrays a limited memory span on the part of those advocating McInnes be relieved of his duties. After all, this is the man who picked up the pieces after succeeding Keith Millen a little over 12 months ago, lifting City off the foot of the Championship and delivering safety.
True, he has been given money to spend since then and has recruited his own back-room staff and players. Yet City fans should defer passing judgment. An assessment of progress under McInnes has to take into account a debilitating casualty list that has deprived the team of Greg Cunningham, Neil Kilkenny, Marvin Elliott and, more recently, loan signing George Elokobi and centre-backs Louis Carey, Liam Fontaine and James Wilson.
Not all the alterations in personnel have been enforced and, in a bid to halt the flood of goals being conceded, the manager has rung the changes to such an extent that the side that faced Hull last weekend bore little resemblance to the one that beat Cardiff and Crystal Palace in August.
The side selected to face Huddersfield tomorrow will come under close scrutiny from fans who are wondering just where the manager will turn next in his quest for an elusive first clean sheet.
The more vociferous critics should be mindful that November has only just dawned. There is plenty of time for City to turn the corner and the manager's hand will be strengthened when key players return from injury. In the meantime, everybody who cares about the club should unite behind McInnes, his staff and a squad of players whose confidence has been shaken by recent results.
And EVERYBODY includes the club's directors, who have stayed silent and left McInnes to front up in public.