You can see why football club boards do it. Change manager and so often a club changes fortunes. The so-called ‘bounce’.
When Nigel Pearson arrived at Ashton Gate on 22 February 2021 it was a short term deal to see if the glove would fit. Try before you buy.
After Mark Ashton had completed a deal in principle over the weekend and the Lansdowns had spoken to Pearson via Zoom meetings, it was all tied up. Assistant head coach Paul Simpson did not wish to be in charge of first-team affairs – and had pretty much made that clear following his media duties after the defeat to Barnsley on the Saturday before – and Pearson duly arrived.
Bristol City were drifting towards a Championship relegation scrap and previous head coach Dean Holden had been dismissed after a 0-2 defeat to Reading the week before, and with the team on a run of 10 losses in 13 Championship games at the time.
Club owner Steve Lansdown gave an interview decrying that the Robins had barely had a corner let alone a shot on target in their last games. The contrast with Lee Johnson’s time, the backing despite more defeats than Holden, was stark, however.
(Holden would likely have kept City up too that year, given only a few more results were needed, but the City board opted for change and to go the opposite route of bringing in a seasoned manager.)
Regardless, there was that bounce: a watching brief for Pearson on the Tuesday night at Middlesbrough was enough to galvanise the West Country squad, possibly release the tension, and for whatever reason City played much better than they had in previous weeks to grab a deserved win at the Riverside Stadium, 1-3.
Though Neil Warnock’s side had dominated the ball and had 17 shots, the Robins had fashioned double the shots on target that the home side had managed. Pearson had only met the players briefly in the team hotel earlier in the day, but who knows if the players felt duty-bound to redouble.
Academy defender Ryley Towler had put in a very good shift at left wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation to help get the win at Boro, after a tough time at Watford three games before, and the Mangotsfield youngster kept his place in the side as City now went on to face Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium unchanged.
This was officially Pearson’s first game in charge of Bristol City and there was an extra buzz of expectation given the 57-year-old’s pedigree and the win four days previously.
And it was to be a winning start, despite Keith Stroud awarding Steve Cooper’s side a second-half penalty when Kasey Palmer, who had been on loan at Swansea City for the first half of the season, was adjudged to have handled in the box.
Andre Ayew despatched the spot kick on 55 minutes, and Dan Bentley had a busy afternoon, with the Swans on top and Crystal Palace-bound Marc Guehi playing well.
But the Robins showed resilience and after Towler had been hooked in the first half for Steven Sessegnon, Zak Vyner made progress to help Nahki Wells net a 66th minute equaliser.
Palmer then atoned for his error when his inswinging corner sailed into Freddie Woodman’s goal on 80 minutes before substitute Antoine Semenyo charged down a Woodman clearance to seal the unlikely victory (Swansea had amassed 21 shots to City’s nine, and double those on target).
It was the first time that fourth-placed Swansea City had lost after leading in a game that season. It was back-to-back wins for Bristol City for the first time since the previous November.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, we were second best in the first half and we couldn’t have had any complaints had we come in two, three goals down. It was a really tough half for us. But yes, [it] shows you what football is like,” reflected Pearson afterwards.
A run of six league defeats had come to an end with these two wins, as Bristol City ended the Saturday in a mighty 11th position but only 11 points off 21st place.
The West Country men would win only one of the next 13 games, but crucially pick up three draws, and effectively these two initial Pearson-attended wins did enough to keep the team in the Championship another season, with the playing squad badly affected by injuries with the Covid-affected campaign also producing unique challenges across football.
The victory in South Wales was rounded off by an on-pitch huddle as all the playing and coaching staff came together in encouraging and positive scenes, with dressing room unity a key theme of Pearson’s time in charge of the Robins.
And though there would again be little progress in the 2021/22 season, the Lansdown family again look to have benefited from being patient, with better times on the horizon now.
Note: the chosen games are not from a fan point of view, and just great wins, but chosen from the press box with the accompanying access and behind-the-scenes knowledge that goes with that.