Bristol City academy keeps producing as red hot striker Tommy Conway continues development

Taunton-born academy graduate striker is the very latest diamond to emerge from the Robins’ talent factory.

In the bowels of Ashton Gate, a press conference was taking place and a 20-year-old striker was beaming.

Tommy Conway was perfectly at ease as he spoke to the media on the first floor of Bristol City’s stadium, basking in the glow of a brilliant start to his own personal season.

Conway had just netted his first goal in BS3, as Luton Town were seen off Luton Town dismissed at Ashton Gate">2-0 in midweek. The academy product has every right to be enjoying the attention, and he looked relaxed and bouyant speaking about his recent displays and a first league win of the campaign for Bristol City.

Why should he not? And on Sunday morning there was even better to come: a stand-out display in a Severnside derby, as Conway’s 41st-minute glancing header set manager Nigel Pearson’s team on the path to a second successive 2-0 win.

That was Conway’s second league strike of the season, after two further goals in the EFL Cup against fellow Championship side Coventry, and a glorious pass across goal at Wigan to assist Andi Weimann net the opener at the DW Stadium.

Confidence is high and no doubt helped by a successful pre-season. The young poacher and fellow academy graduate striker Sam Bell set the way in early player fitness testing at the end of June, with both recording the highest SDS training scores (Single Double Single High Intensity Interval Test) in the Bristol City squad, the ‘Yo Yo test’ successor, measuring high intensity sprints.

“The young lads have really done well [in pre-season training and fitness tests]. People like Sam Bell and Tommy Conway,” defender George Tanner told us during pre-season. “They’ve shown real fitness.”

Bonding on a team camp in Austria, at the Hotel im Park Bad Radkersburg, helped the players integrate before the new season, before Conway netted three goals in five games for the Robins across pre-season (recalling the early off-season form of Bobby De Cordova-Reid that then propelled the former academy graduate into a front-line City role in Lee Johnson’s Tammy Abraham-less side of 2017), back at Failand.

Pearson is a big fan of Conway and nixed any chance of a loan for this season, with a recognition that first-team football is a must with where the young forward stands currently.

A 90th minute slide to see off Cheltenham Town was followed by two goals against Exeter City, before the brace against Coventry and successive strikes against the Hatters and Bluebirds.

Conway’s week ended with a man of the match display on Sunday and a score of nine out of 10 in our player ratings for the derby win.

It’s been a prolific start for a genuine sniffer of goal chances, who allies sharp movement with relentless hounding of opposition defenders when City are without the ball.

“Let’s see if he can do it over 30 or 40 games,” said assistant Curtis Fleming after the third win over Cardiff City in succession, to keep those skilful feet planted on the floor.

Of course, this is football and there will be dips in form and fitness to navigate along the way but Conway is instantly making Bristol City fans forget about last year’s breakthrough player, Antoine Semenyo.

Indeed, the club now has a ready-made replacement should Semenyo attract a big bid and be sold in the near future, with the Robins weighing up what is the best path forward, strangled by Profitability and Sustainability rules over the last years. The club has been lowering their wage bill in the past two summers.

On the other hand, is there more reason to resist any late concrete interest in Semenyo? Pearson has a forward line the envy of many in the second tier: joint second top scorer in the league Weimann, the twin talents of Conway and Semenyo, one of the Championship’s all-time scorers in Chris Martin (sixth currently and still going strong), the experienced and Championship proven Nahki Wells, and another up-and-coming academy player in 20-year-old Sam Bell.

What might be possible as those six find the net across 2022/23?

Three of those six forwards have come from the Bristol City academy and supporters can take great heart from yet another talent found locally.

Conway has risen through the ranks at Bristol City since the age of seven. Flatmate Alex Scott is another City starlet and the two have competed regularly over darts, two-touch football on their balcony and more. “We’ve built a close bond and I think that helps us. We’re both away from our families,” Conway told this writer last week.

The pair grew up as Arsenal and Spurs supporters - Conway even trialling at Bristol City in a Gunners shirt - giving a natural affinity between the pair, based on some light-hearted rivalry when they watch Premier League games together.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that both players could be competing in the English top-flight in the future.

And so the Bristol City academy talent factory produces again; Conway already looks capable at Championship level, at least. He is proving so.

Pearson craves defensive help to match his riches in attack to really push this West Country club on. There is little money to spend without player sales, as explained by the manager himself, and so focus may turn inwards again in the near future as regards future progression.

Can academy director Brian Tinnion and his staff now find another Lloyd Kelly - an England U21 centre back no less - who also broke through in 2017/18 to help Bristol City stiffen up at the back? Judging by past successes we wouldn’t bet against it.