PREVIEW: Leeds United vs Bristol City
LOUIS Carey reckons Bristol City's players must banish the fear factor if they are to have any chance of staying in the npower Championship this season.
City's failure to keep a clean sheet this season and subsequent slide to the foot of the table has eroded confidence and undermined self-belief.
The fear of failure in City's dressing room has become a pernicious influence and was one of the reasons the club's board of directors took the decision to sack manager Derek McInnes last weekend.
They have since installed experienced campaigner Sean O'Driscoll as head coach, but the problems are so deep-seated that no one man can be expected to transform the fortunes of a team that finds itself six points adrift of safety going into tomorrow's fixture against Leeds United at Elland Road.
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While acknowledging the natural talent within City's squad, long-serving defender Carey warns that ability without strength of character will not be enough to save the Robins.
"If the lads are fit, they have all the ability in the world," said the Bristolian, pictured. "But it is not about that anymore – it is about being mentally strong.
"That mental side of things can involve anything from a fear of going out there on match-days to feeling that you are in a rut because results are not going well.
"The key is to believe that you are good enough as an individual and good enough as a team to win games. You cannot afford to feel fear and you cannot be worried about making a mistake and the fans being on your back.
"You have to show character and stand up to be counted when you are in the position we are in."
Carey and some of his team-mates have been here before; City struggled against relegation throughout last season, only achieving safety in the penultimate game.
Although the Robins escaped under Mcinnes last year, Carey fears retaining Championship status could prove an even bigger ask this time around.
He said: "We've got out of it before, but this is a different bunch of lads now and a different situation. Last season, a new manager had just come in at a time when we were struggling and that gave us a massive boost.
"Hopefully, that can happen again this year, but we are already in January and it could be even harder. We are worse off than we were this time last season in terms of points."
It remains to be seen what personnel and tactics O'Driscoll deploys at Elland Road in his first game in charge, but Carey suggests the players will welcome a positive approach.
That was not always the case as McInnes experimented with a 5-4-1 formation away from home in a desperate quest for a clean sheet.
Carey explained: "Striking the right balance has been a problem for us all season.
"We want to play a 3-5-2 system, but we don't want it to become a five at the back. It has to be like taking one defender out so you can push your wing-backs on. If it becomes five at the back, you can end up being pushed back and under the cosh, and there are a lot of players who can hurt you in this division.
"Striking the right balance has been a problem for us all season."