Bristol City’s toiling in attack against Fulham shows Nigel Pearson is right to want a striker

Chris Martin shoots at goal in the FA Cup third round game against FulhamChris Martin shoots at goal in the FA Cup third round game against Fulham
Chris Martin shoots at goal in the FA Cup third round game against Fulham | Getty Images
Robins’ brilliant record at Craven Cottage to be really tested next weekend

Bristol City were excellent against Fulham on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup. But don’t expect similar next weekend away at Craven Cottage.

The visitors had not played since December 20 and in making nine changes from their last game, including playing young Tyrese Francois - brother of city U23 winger Marlee - in midfield, it was a sign that head coach Marco Silva was playing some fringe players. And the West London outfit looked sluggish as a result.

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The Robins were the better team for most of the match, despite making five changes themselves. And it recalled one of the best away performances last season, when City won 0-3 at Millwall in round four of the same competition.

City just could not finish. They had the chances and Chris Martin, Callum O’Dowda and Tommy Conway could not convert when in great positions.

The home fans booed Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Joe Byran on their return to Ashton Gate. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)The home fans booed Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Joe Byran on their return to Ashton Gate. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
The home fans booed Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Joe Byran on their return to Ashton Gate. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Perhaps it was a lack of match sharpness for some, with Martin, Conway and Nahki Wells returning to the side, but Paolo Gazzaniga would not be beaten.

The best chance? There was not much between Martin’s one-on-one, Conway rounding the keeper and O’Dowda with time and space in the area and the goalkeeper drawn from goal.

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Fulham looked rusty, and so did the Robins up front, even if elsewhere Ayman Benarous played his best game in a City shirt yet, displaying plenty of exciting promise as he slipped through several through-balls for Wells to scamper after and playing in Martin on goal.

Indeed Bristol City were very good across the midfield. Han-Noah Massengo carried on his recent good form, rampaging up the pitch from the middle, and Andy King helped out shielding the defence, who restricted Fulham until extra-time.

And Cameron Pring arguably had a better game than opposite number Joe Bryan, who looked like he was not up for this contest, playing out one of those sleepy displays he occasionally put in down the left in some games for the Robins, lacking urgency.

Elsewhere, Bobby De Cordova-Reid was well shackled in the main, possibly aided by boos from the home crowd.

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It was only when Aleksandar Mitrovic and the tenacious Harry Wilson linked up late on, with City chasing the game too, that the home side got a taste of what is to come in the Championship next Saturday at 3pm.

Max O’Leary may need to pull off several more blinding saves, as he did in the Cup.

City’s fine record of winning their last five visits to Craven Cottage will be in serious danger, against a side sure to be in the Premier League promotion mix-up come May.

Bigger picture? City certainly have some good young talents. It was not one of Alex Scott’s best games but he did okay, helping to stifle Bryan. Add in Antoine Semenyo, Conway and others and there is something to be positive about right there.

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And Rob Atkinson played very well on returning to the side too. The central defender was a contender for man of the match. City’s defence needs to improve and the former Oxford United man’s return to form will help that.

A winning return to Ashton Gate for Bristolian Joe Bryan but he was booed by his former fans. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)A winning return to Ashton Gate for Bristolian Joe Bryan but he was booed by his former fans. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
A winning return to Ashton Gate for Bristolian Joe Bryan but he was booed by his former fans. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) | Getty Images

But this game perhaps showed why 12-goal Andi Weimann is so key to the team and that more goal-scoring threats are needed if progress is to be made.

If Bristol City could add an explosive, physical option in attack - along the lines of Cardiff City’s Kieffer Moore - then the West Country men would possess the potency to attack the top half of the Championship.

Two moments summed up City’s season in Saturday’s game.

The first was O’Dowda’s Cristiano Ronaldo-esque footwork to bamboozle Nathaniel Chalobah by the South Stand corner flag on 85 minutes, only for the Irishman to then whip over the cross. Straight behind for a goal kick.

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Secondly, a Kasey Palmer pass down the line late in the game that had Martin chasing the ball to the corner flag. Unfortunately the ball got away and a lack of speed was shown up, though the 33-year-old has had a good season and is certainly a useful option for City from the bench.

Going forward, the Robins must consider finding that extra quality in attack to make the difference. Whether that is Antoine Semenyo finding the net more often, Wells reintegrated or another forward arriving.

Unfortunately, the Bermudian front-man has never convinced manager Nigel Pearson enough to get regular first-team starts, just five in 25 Championship games in 2021/22, and he is expected to remain in BS3 this transfer window.

BristolWorld understands that there was some interest in the 31-year-old from a lower half Championship side but this has not progressed.

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Wells has another 18 months to go on his contract and the club may have to make some hard decisions in the summer, as it makes no sense to have the former QPR striker sat on the bench when he is one of the club’s best paid players.

And until that is resolved then City may not be able to recruit in attack, which Pearson has previously explained he would like to, and add that cutting edge that could see the club rise up the Championship table.

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