Back-to-basics approach gives City players renewed belief
WHERE once confusion and chaos held sway, there is now understanding and a clarity of purpose that suggests better times may lie ahead for Bristol City.
Eager to restore confidence and stop the rot that had lately become the hallmark of his predecessor's reign, new head coach Sean O'Driscoll kept things blindingly simple at Elland Road.
Ordering a return to basics for the Championship's bottom side, the 55-year-old Midlander refused to ask any one player to perform a task that was beyond him and adhered strictly to his mantra of deploying round pegs in round holes.
Desperate to effect a transformation in fortunes, Derek McInnes tinkered to the point where he lost sight of his best team and structure, in turn, rendering his charges less effective all over the pitch.
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: Wednesday, May 22 2013
If those failings ensured his departure, they also hastened the arrival at Ashton Gate of an arch pragmatist, one who might just be able to rescue City's season.
As far as O'Driscoll is concerned, football is a simple game and the less complicated the better. True to his word, he deployed right-sided players on the right, left-footers on the left and ensured those he selected to face Leeds were in their strongest positions.
It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that those familiar with their role are more likely to perform to the best of their abilities, no matter what their profession.
Certainly, O'Driscoll's first-team selection provided essential balance. As for his tactics, it was clear from the outset that he had succeeded in getting his message across.
Through organisation, discipline and hard work came a collective synergy that made City more difficult to play against than at any time previously this season.
As a consequence, a Leeds team that is formidable on home soil was restricted to a mere handful of goalscoring opportunities, while supporters renowned for creating a hostile environment instead resorted to criticism borne out of sheer frustration until Ross McCormack delivered much-needed relief in the form of a headed goal 23 minutes from the end.
City may well have lost again and the side O'Driscoll inherited may be seven points adrift of safety at the foot of the Championship table; but those unpalatable facts ought not to detract from what was essentially a vastly-improved performance.
At no time since they beat Peterborough 2-1 at London Road in September, conceding from the penalty spot in time added on, have City looked more likely to keep a clean sheet.
Recognising the importance of stemming the flow of goals that has contributed to the worst defensive record in the Football League, O'Driscoll deployed two banks of four and restored veteran centre-back Louis Carey to the heart of the defence, a ploy that helped Liam Fontaine. Reassured by the presence of a naturally right-sided partner alongside him, the hitherto out-of-sorts Fontaine summoned, arguably, his most assured performance of the season.
More encouragingly, City defended as a team, working hard to retrieve possession whenever they lost it and won more than their share of second balls all over the pitch.
So well did they contain a Leeds side that relies on relentless energy to play a pressing game, that Robins keeper Tom Heaton had precious little to do for long periods of a contest that was always absorbing.
If O'Driscoll has at least gone some way towards restoring confidence through a back-to-basics approach that renders his team difficult to play against, his next task is surely to reinvent City as an attacking force.
Away from home against a Leeds side harbouring play-off ambitions and with confidence still at a low ebb, it was always going to be asking too much to expect a display laden with attacking verve and free-flowing football.
That said, the restoration of Neil Kilkenny to the centre of midfield ensured City saw enough of the ball to trouble their opponents on occasions. Had Richard Foster taken the chance that came his way shortly before half-time, we might now be reflecting on a notable victory.
Deprived of the services of absent winger Albert Adomah and injured top-scorer Sam Baldock, City lack the pace required to hurt opponents at this moment in time and their return cannot come soon enough.
With an injection of pace and a little more quality and conviction in the final third, who is to say what City might be capable of?
O'Driscoll must necessarily build from the back if he is to perform a Houdini-style escape act and we can reasonably expect more in the way of attacking intent when Ipswich and Watford visit Ashton Gate in the next eight days.
In the meantime, players and supporters alike should draw encouragement from a team performance that represents a marked improvement on anything seen in recent weeks. Nothing is guaranteed, but at least City now appear to be heading in the right direction.