Bristol City vs Ipswich Town: Stead's late winner is a reward for City's new-found heart
Bristol City 2 - 1 Ipswich Town
SEAN O'Driscoll's pragmatic approach to management is already yielding tangible dividends for Championship strugglers Bristol City.
This was a game the Robins would almost certainly have lost prior to the new head coach's appointment earlier this month. Bottom of the table and bereft of confidence for far too long, City's players have been inclined to respond adversely when subjected to outrageous misfortune during a campaign that has lurched inexorably from bad to worse.
Whenever City fell behind on home soil, they would invariably run up the white flag and succumb to ignominious defeat.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Against this backdrop, the fact O'Driscoll has been able to instil discipline, organisation and a way of playing that suits his charges in such a short space of time does him and his methods immense credit.
Sure enough, City again fell behind in front of their own supporters, as Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy took advantage of a momentary loss of concentration to establish daylight between the two sides on the half-hour mark.
But on this occasion, the Robins were reading from a different script and the players summoned the backbone required to stay in contention.
They benefited from a large slice of good luck when Lee Martin spurned a golden opportunity to double Ipswich's lead shortly before half-time, contriving to shoot high and wide from point-blank range.
But the structure imposed by O'Driscoll enabled City to avert further calamity and, from the moment substitute Steven Davies equalised in the 47th minute, anything seemed possible.
Often this term, recovery has been beyond players who have tended to concede one goal and then another in quick succession to put the outcome beyond reasonable doubt long before the end.
Although the Robins probably performed better in defeat at Leeds seven days earlier and were again below par at Ashton Gate, the good habits introduced by O'Driscoll ensured they remained competitive and gave themselves a chance to salvage something from the game.
In the circumstances – City are seven points adrift of safety with 18 games to play – no one will particularly care that Ipswich deserved at least a share of the spoils. When you are propping up the league, the result is all that really matters.
Jon Stead's dramatic 90th-minute winner may have represented rough justice for Mick McCarthy's men, but the striker and his team-mates are hardly going to lose sleep over that.
It remains to be seen whether Stead's third goal of the season – and the three points it yielded – are sufficient to spark a concerted revival in fortunes for such an inconsistent team.
Previous victories over Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Peterborough have been exposed as false dawns and only an unbeaten run spanning several games will convince Ashton Gate regulars that a remarkable act of escapology is still possible.
But this welcome victory should at least serve to restore a degree of confidence ahead of a potentially-hazardous meeting with in-form Watford tomorrow night.
Players who deviated from the script prepared by their coach during the opening 45 minutes, will do well to remember the changes he initiated at half-time. Encouraged to play further up the pitch, a midfield that lacked conviction in the first period succeeded in offering the strikers increased support after the break.
That in turn made it possible for Davies and Stead to unhinge a defence that had dealt comfortably with a succession of predictable straight passes before the break.
Once Liam Kelly and Paul Anderson found themselves in closer proximity to the forwards, City were in with a chance.
It goes without saying that the Robins will need to play a lot better than this if they are to retrieve a parlous situation between now and the end of the campaign, but at least there are now genuine signs of sustainable improvement.
Just as they had been at Elland Road in their previous outing, City were compact and defended well as a team, while individuals were again prepared to put their bodies on the line in order to keep the ball out of the net.
No one did more to ensure victory than veteran Louis Carey. Largely overlooked by previous manager Derek McInnes, the Bristolian is highly regarded by O'Driscoll, who has identified the 36-year-old and Liam Fontaine as the best central defensive pairing available to him.
Carey's experience and willingness to lead by example made it possible for new signing Brendan Moloney to make a good impression on his debut, the former Nottingham Forest man demonstrating a tenacity and positional sense that has often been missing on the right side of a defence that has still to keep a clean sheet this season.
If Moloney did enough to warrant retaining his place against Watford, O'Driscoll will surely be keeping his fingers crossed that Carey's body recovers sufficiently to enable him to play a second game in four days.