Time to re-evaluate where Bristol City will finish in the Championship this season
Robins have turned their early form around to race away like a steam train since blazing a path to goal.
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One fantastic statistic after the weekend sums up the swashbuckling play of the Robins: no team in the top four tiers of English football has scored more goals than Bristol City’s 23 across all competitions.
If any supporters, or football commentators, thought that a Nigel Pearson Robins team would be pragmatic and on the dour side, then think again (and specifically you The Second Tier Podcast).
His West Country side are proving anything but. The Championship’s top scorers are no flash in the pan. We wrote many times last season how the attack is functioning just fine at Ashton Gate and beyond.
Only six teams scored more than City last season and three of those were promoted.
It’s well recognised that the work needs to be done at the other end of the pitch by the coaching staff. But even though there is a long way to go on that front, another surge in attacking efficiency so far - with Tommy Conway and Nahki Wells finding form - means that, with some defensive improvement, City are rocking.
The turnaround after the opening two defeats against Hull City and Sunderland has been immense.
Eight games unbeaten since, three home wins in succession for the first time since December 2018 and the Robins soaring.
The sparkling football is a far cry from the drab days of the end of the Dean Holden era and the start of Pearson’s reign.
The current football recalls the best of times under former head coach Lee Johnson - when his side were at their best. And that was the caveat with Johnson’s sides; the streaks of form, both up and down.
The true test for this side is in the longer term, of course, and establishing consistency. But already there is great grounds for optismism here too.
City rank fifth in the league for Expected Goals – in essence the goals you would have expected a side to score on average from the chances they’ve created this season – according to the WyScout platform. Pearson’s team therefore sit where they do on merit.
Bristol City have riches in attack with five strikers able to find the back of the net and able to suit each and every opponent. Johnson used to say he liked to have the ‘clubs in the bag’ for all eventualities. Pearson now has that regarding his attack.
Andi Weimann is certainly one of the league’s best and can be relied on to deliver week to week, while even Sam Bell has a role offering another fresh set of legs to lead the pressing from the front when closing out games.
With Antoine Semenyo yet to start games and factor in, this City attack is one of the very best in the league and in blistering form so far. Long may it continue.
But there is some cause for positivity at the back too. It’s a team game afterall.
Although only two sides have conceded more goals in the Championship than Bristol City so far, as things ended last season (just Peterborough and Reading conceding more goals than Bristol City), the Robins are doing better at keeping the ball out of their own goal at home.
Three clean sheets in three games at the Gate followed the crazy loss to the Black Cats, and key signing Kal Naismith is making fewer mistakes than when he arrived. Indeed, Zak Vyner alongside him has played well of late, and there is still the influential Tomas Kalas – if the Robins can get him right – to come in.
An Atkinson-Naismith-Kalas backline should take some beating and we’ve yet to even glimpse that line-up at the back.
Elsewhere, Mark Sykes has impressed on the right, and Alex Scott contines to astound wherever he crops up in midfield. There are options aplenty for Pearson, who hopefully can now go on and push the best form out of Joe Williams too.
City rank 17th in the league for Expected Goals Against currently. Last year they ranked 24th, according to WyScout. That’s a decent improvement, and there may well be more to come as the team gels and confidence rises.
A sign of the times? US data-heavy analytical website FiveThirtyEight.com were predicting Bristol City to be relegated only a few weeks ago. Now the outlet, which uses a database of 550,000 matches and runs a Monte Carlo simulation of 20,000 seasons to take an average as part of the way they make their forecasts, suggests a seventh-placed finish for the Ashton Gate outfit.
Of course, the upcoming games against Preston, Norwich and Burnley look very tough on paper and may show where Bristol City really lie currently. But even if they do, there looks to be enough to carry this side forward to a top half finish this season at the very least.
Or more. Dare to dream yet?