How Bristol City have fallen to the bottom of the Championship away form table - and what can be done?
BristolWorld fan columnist Ian Gay looks at how the Robins’ leaking defence can be fixed with the club keeping just three clean sheets this season
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Nigel Pearson inherited an underperforming team and overblown squad.
Is it still underperforming? My own view is that City could, indeed should, have ten points more after 36 games.
Yes, according to Jon Lansdown - although much has been made of Bristol City chairman Jon Lansdown talks EFL financial rules, on-pitch performances and sports quarter developments">some remarks he made at our sponsorship launch. I think he’s right…….then again, so is Nigel Pearson when he says we’ve made progress, albeit from a very low bar last season.
The fact remains that Dean Holden was sacked with a better record than Pearson.
Whilst our home form, after beating Barnsley 2-1 in October 30 has no doubt improved, our away form has, to use modern parlance, gone down the tubes!
From that date, City currently sit 24th in the away form table yet are 13th in the home form table.
Over the entire season so far City are 16th at home and 21st away which has to be judged as disappointing, hasn’t it?
So why and what can Pearson do to correct our current away form which, over our last 11 games reads a horrifying:
P11 W0 D2 L9 F11 A31 Pts 2/33 (6% points take and a 0% win rate)
Even if you take away our 6-2 drubbing at Fulham, we’re conceding 2.3 goals per game and whilst, as Pearson correctly says the ‘WSM’ (Weimann, Semenyo and Martin) is doing well, but they can’t be expected to score three goals per game to win games and they aren’t away from home.
So you don’t have to be Pep Guardiola or indeed, Carol Vorderman, to calculate where the heart of the problem lies.
The bigger issue is what can we do about it?
If we maintain what’s working for the front three - Semenyo and Martin up top with Andi Weimann in the “No 10” role - what can Pearson do to ‘bolt the door’ behind them as City have conceded the joint third highest Championship goals (65) and have the least clean sheets (3) in The Championship - yes, fewer than Reading and Peterborough.
I can’t see that we can do much about personnel with defenders Tanner, Baker, Klose all injured and Moore out on loan plus, for some reason, Danny Simpson departing this week albeit the former Leicester player was a peripheral figure in his time at Ashton Gate.
Pearson signed Timm Klose in January and whilst I’ve been impressed by the Swiss since his debut at Preston North End we’ve still conceded two goals per game, or 16 in eight if you prefer.
With the ‘WSM’ up top we can either go with 3-4-1-2 or 4-3-1-2.
The former would mean a recall for Zak Vyner who was widely blamed for at least one of the goals at Swansea or a debut for Robbie Cundy who is out of contract this summer and did well as a second half sub at Forest snuffing out dangerman Keinan Davis - an Aston Villa loanee with whom City were linked.
I struggled with Pearson’s dismissive “he was OK” in his post-match interview after Davis had ran Kalas and Klose ragged in the first period.
Without a natural right wing back, Jay DaSilva has done OK there and more recently Sam Bell - albeit Bell, unlike his father, isn’t a defender by trade, he can add pace and width going forward. Regrettably, the young man was badly exposed against Coventry City and Birmingham City - those games probably did him more harm in his career than good.
A lot of defensive play is positional and that takes years of experience to hone for a young man who was developing his talents as a striker at Grimsby only a few months ago.
Could a more defensive player like Vyner play there supported by three centre backs in Cundy, Kalas and Atkinson at Blackburn? We don’t know the extent of Klose’s injury but he may be available for next week’s game at Barnsley?
Pring and DaSilva offer differing options at left wing back or full back.
Vyner would appear to be our best available option at right back if Pearson opts for a four with Williams, Massengo and Scott in a three man midfield? Given their respective levels of fitness it may well be sensible to select Williams or James to start and replace one with the other after 45/60 mins. Both didn’t look at 100% fitness or sharpness against Birmingham City and Massengo was a huge miss.
Pearson scathingly spoke of being unable to coach “heart” after our defeat at Swansea and he feels ‘it’s not tactical’ so he was clearly pointing the finger at players not going in where it hurts although he didn’t single anyone out.
We were awful at Forest and ineffective in the first half against Coventry whilst improving greatly in the second. Saturday, against Birmingham, the first half was abysmal and improved in the second albeit we didn’t really test Etheridge and had only four shots on target in the 90 minutes.
Once again, I wonder what choice Pearson has with the options at his disposal?
A squad of 25 after Simpson’s departure with six players injured and two out on loan leaves seventeen in the first team squad so that means a call up from the U23s.
He could, of course, decide to completely change the formation to a 4-5-1 or 3-5-2 utilising the ‘WSM’ in different positions however, based on previous selections and comments I don’t see that happening.
With a 16-point gap between City and the relegation places it’s not a panic situation but it needs resolving because losing games and conceding to many goals saps confidence and how we finish this season is important going into a pivotal summer in the future of our club.