Bristol City’s home comforts continue after three years of diet at Ashton Gate

West Country outfit put in another good display on their home turf as Pearson’s side see off Boro.
The Ashton Gate Eight are celebrated during the win against Middlesbrough.The Ashton Gate Eight are celebrated during the win against Middlesbrough.
The Ashton Gate Eight are celebrated during the win against Middlesbrough.

“They’re not a solid side. They’re better than that. They’re a good side.” That was Nigel Pearson’s assessment of the men from the North East on Saturday late afternoon.

Chris Wilder’s team had lost just once in 13 games coming into this match and just three times under the former Sheffield United manager in total, who has now seen his sides concede four goals to Andi Weimann in the last three meetings between City and his Middlesbrough and Blades teams.

This was possibly one of the best home displays of the campaign for the Robins - in a battling sense at the least; Severnside Derby win the zenith? - at the perfect time, coming as it did at the end of a cracking celebration of the Ashton Gate Eight.

Indeed, Wilder has lost four times in six games against City now. Only four clubs in English football have a better record than that (Leicester, never lost to Wilder, and Plymouth, Burton and Southend, with the Shrimps having strangely won 10 of 14 meetings).

The 2-1 win was a great dessert to the main event. That succulence supplied by the electric Antoine Semenyo in attack, as Andi Weimann again showcased why he has become one of the division’s best attackers, netting in back to back games and registering 16 goals in 33 games played in the English second tier in 21/22.

Here was another good showing in BS3, even if there was another late goal conceded to deny a clean sheet, irking the manager. A fourth home win in succession and a seventh of the league campaign (from 17) shows good improvement at the team’s own stadium though, after we saw just seven in total across the 20/21 league season.

Think back to the last years of Lee Johnson, and also under Dean Holden, and consistency at Ashton Gate was hard to come by. There is reason to hope that Saturday was another station on the long road to being the beginning of something special though.

After a slow start, one win in the first eight remember, it’s now seven wins in the last 10 alone. There is still a long way to go but the victories could - if they keep coming - solidify into something eventually magnificent.

As Pearson explained following the match: “We have an awful long way to go”, acknowledging the path ahead. Only Reading have conceded more goals than City in home games this season for a start.

City have achieved a modicum of consistency in their home games of late though and not since December to February 2018/19, en route to that eighth-place finish under Lee Johnson, has the South West club won four home matches in a row. Long may it continue.

Chris Wilder and Nigel Pearson met as opposition managers in December 2019. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)Chris Wilder and Nigel Pearson met as opposition managers in December 2019. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Chris Wilder and Nigel Pearson met as opposition managers in December 2019. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

“I think for us it is a huge plus to play in front of our own fans and I think our players were thankful for our fans again. I think we showed qualities which people who support teams appreciate and that is honesty, hard work as a baseline,” opined Pearson on the recent home successes in reply to us pointing out the improved record at Ashton Gate on Saturday.

The Robins looked more solid at the back with Dan Bentley returned in the nets (first start since the Huddersfield defeat in December) and making nine saves on the day, possibly the pick being as he rushed out to stop Marcus Tavernier equalising in the second half.

In front of him, City lined up in an innovative 2-3-2-2-1, as Pearson explained to Bristol World following the match that effectively a diamond was used, with the prolific Weimann playing at the tip and the effective Joe Williams at the base.

“It [Williams’ role] was a front sweeper. Whether you see it as a front sweeper or part of a back five, it doesn’t matter. However you see it, it is what it is,” Pearson told us after the victory.

“His role today was wherever possible be in front of the line or in between the two centre backs because we knew their midfield players would split. You could almost say we were a diamond in the midfield but it doesn’t matter how you see it.”

Nigel Bielsa? Marcelo Pearson? Regardless, the former Leciester City manager won this tactical battle, and his charges excelled on the grass.

The South Stand responded, followed by all four stands and particularly rousing was the circa 19,000 City supporters singing “Bounce around the ground...” and then appropriately “Eight men had a dream...” in the final five minutes.

Those City supporters have a dream too. That once again a period of financial instability can become overcome. That the selfless acts of the players can unite. And that the Robins can maybe match the 1982 guard who played under manager Alan Dicks and took City to the big time (Peter Aitken and Julian Marshall aside).

Football is often cyclical. Given good time at the helm (as Dicks had), maybe Pearson can replicate the 1976-80 story and City’s time will likewise come again. If that is to happen, we’ll need more days like Saturday. It all starts at Ashton Gate.