Nigel Pearson praised midfielder Matty James’ performance in Bristol City’s 2-0 away victory over West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday night, as the 31-year-old made his return from injury.
It was James’ first match back after a month out with a calf problem, and he made his presence felt on the night.
As part of a flat midfield three alongside Alex Scott and Joe Williams, James helped the Robins gain control of the match and provided calmness in what was a nitty-gritty midfield battle at times.
“I thought he was excellent,” Pearson said. “He can pass the ball. His ball for Nahki’s (Wells) run for the first goal, it looked simple but it was a really clever ball.”
James delivered a smart clipped ball in behind the defence for Wells, whose cross was kept alive by Jay Dasilva before Joe Williams netted the opening goal on the night. Wells headed in Antoine Semenyo’s before the break to give the Robins a two-goal lead at half time.
The Baggies dominated the ball second half as expected, but a committed defensive display from the visitors nullified any threat to Max O’Leary’s goal, as City prevented their opponents from recording a shot on target for the first time since March 2021.
Despite O’Leary’s lack of action, he made several key punches from set pieces and was a key part of the backline’s solidarity.
“I thought Max was really positive, he made some really positive decisions,” the manager said.
“I thought the defenders and everybody else when we were defending set plays were just very resilient, we got some great blocks in and had some good individual bits of defending. But the most important thing was the collective discipline was very much there.”
A mix-up between O’Leary and Tomas Kalas cost the Robins dearly on Saturday, as they were beaten 2-1 by Millwall at Ashton Gate. The goalkeeper received some criticism for the incident, but Pearson was keen to defend the Irish shot-stopper.
When asked whether O’Leary made a positive response after the defeat to the Lions, Pearson replied: “After what? It (the goal vs Millwall) was Tomas’ fault. It wasn’t his fault.
“That’s what goalkeepers should do, and that is, make positive decisions. At least he’s visible, so, it’s good.”
O’Leary has now played the last three matches for City, as club captain Daniel Bentley has been forced to settle for a place on the bench of late.
For the Robins, Tuesday’s win was just their second in nine matches, and their first away clean sheet of the campaign.
A busy schedule of a game every three days and the competitive nature of the EFL Championship makes it difficult for teams to find a steady level of performance at times, and Pearson recognised this.
“It really Is a tough league to be as consistent as you’d like to be, so I don’t overreact when things don’t go our way,” he said.
“Because let’s be honest, we turned the game around when they (Millwall) equalised at the weekend, and we looked like we were going to go on and win it. It was only a mistake at the back which took the wind out of our sails.”
The Robins are now up to 11th, just six points off of league leaders Blackburn Rovers and three points off of Queens Park Rangers, who occupy the final play-off spot in sixth.
A play-off place remains the primary target for Pearson’s side this season, and the 59-year-old is confident that his side will gain a level of stability to aid their pursuit of the goal.
“I like to think I’m a realist, I know myself that we’ve lost points that we shouldn’t do and the players know that too. They don’t go out and make mistakes on purpose,” he said.
“I think before we started today, between the top places and the bottom three there were about seven points, if you have a couple of good results, you can make progress and we’ve had a very sticky run which has not brought in too many points. But, we’ve still had a couple of wins in there and a draw so we’ll find our way.”