Bristol City rounded off their regular U23s season with a comprehensive win in their last match at home to Coventry City on Tuesday.
Sam Bell, Saikou Janneh and two goals from Tommy Conway were enough to see off the Sky Blues 4-2, who got on the scoresheet late on via defenders George Burroughs and Jay McGrath.
A strong side was named including Saikou Janneh, back from his Shrewsbury Town loan, and Ayman Benarous, Sam Bell and Tommy Conway from first-team involvement of late. And the youngsters almost replicated the senior side’s exploits of the weekend.
It’s crunch time in the Professional Development League 2 competition, and the Robins started the day guaranteed a top two finish that will see them into the play-offs to play one of the top two sides in the North section.
Unfortunately Ipswich Town beat Sheffield United 3-0 to top the South section, as Bristol City finish runners-up but head into the end-of-season play-offs in the competition.
That will be a game against Sheffield United, likely to happen on this coming Sunday at the HPC, as the West Country development side look to go one better than last year, when they lost at that stage to Birmingham City.
Tale of the game
City set up in a 4-2-1-3 with Ryley Towler and Duncan Idehen, fresh from signing his new two-year deal at the club, at centre-back with Callum Wood and Zac Bell at full-back, and Janneh, Conway and Bell ahead of Benarous. Dylan Kadji and Josh Owers anchored midfield.
Attacking midfielder Will Bapaga caused problems early on and but for a block from Idehen on 13 minutes the Sky Blues may have opened the scoring.
But back came the Robins as a rusty Janneh, who had mishit a few passes before, won the ball in the opposition box for Sam Bell to pick up and smash against the bar, before Janneh himself was played through one-on-one but was unable to beat Cian Tyler in goal for Coventry at the 20 minute mark.
Wood then headed a Benarous free-kick wide on the 30-minute mark and Zac Bell nipped in to block Fabio Tavares’ shot on goal shortly after.
Towler headed a Benarous corner at goal and Benarous wasted a good opportunity as Kadji picked him out 10 minutes before the break.
And Bristol City opened the scoring on 38 minutes as they kept the pressure on: a long punt forward from Will Buse split open the Coventry defence. Sam Bell got onto the long kick and his volley into the far corner took the slightest of deflections to beat Tyler.
Five minutes later and it was two as Wood flicked on for Sam Bell to run clear again. A deft cross was met by Janneh to steer into the corner with perhaps a fortuitous touch.
After the break Coventry threatened again through some neat incisive play very remiscent of Mark Robins’ senior side, but the Young Robins extended their lead as Tommy Conway netted his ninth goal of the season, converting from the spot after a handball in the area at a corner.
It was four on 63 minutes as Conway made space to roll into the corner, after good link-up play with Sam Bell, to bring up double figures for the campaign, and the home side were on a roll.
Coventry pulled one back as Ryan Howley cracked a free kick against the woodwork and George Burroughs headed in on 67 minutes, before substitute Marley Rose curled over from a good position with ten minutes to go.
And Sam Bell missed an even better opportunity as Conway played his fellow forward in one on one, with Cheltenham Town boss Michael Duff watching on from the sidelines.
A fine tackle by Idehen in the final minutes on Bapaga kept the scoreline down but Jay McGrath headed in a corner on 87 minutes to add some extra gloss to the result for Luke Tisdale’s side from the Midlands.
Who stood out
Towler made a welcome return at the back at the HPC and was brave to head away in the first quarter of the game. The defender who has shot to social media fame was also a composed presence on the ball, spraying passes wide into space to get the home side moving forward.
One lovely flick released Wood into space while there were also several good reads of the play to attack the ball and snuff out any danger.
Buse was outstanding in the air to collect and release the ball well in the first half as the Robins looked to impose themselves on the opposition. And he saved well from Tavares and Bapaga at times too.
Benarous’ mesmeric footwork saw him carry the ball into dangerous areas but the visitors crowded him out at times. And Kadji’s prompting from midfield led to some of City’s best moves.
Sam Bell was lively in attack and full of incisive movement. He was unlucky not to open the scoring earlier than he did. The 19-year-old could and should have had a hat-trick.
And Tommy Conway’s excellent finishing likely proved the difference between both teams. Plenty of positives ahead of the play-off clash against the Blades to come very soon.
Bristol City: Will Buse, Zac Bell (James Taylor 71’), Callum Wood, Josh Owers, Ryley Towler, Duncan Idehen, Saikou Janneh (Marley Rose, 62’), Dylan Kadji (Tommy Backwell, 75’), Sam Bell, Ayman Benarous, Tommy Conway