Manager has changed previous focus on youth
24 October ~ A year ago this weekend, Bristol City won at Carlisle. It was their first league victory of the season and took the club off the bottom of the League One table. It was actually their first league win in 22 attempts, spread across seven months, two seasons and two divisions. By the end of November, Sean O’Driscoll had been dismissed as manager. This weekend Bristol City travel to Barnsley having not been defeated in 14 league outings so far this season, the unbeaten run stretches to 20 league games as the side have not lost since the end of March.
So far this season they notched an impressive 30 goals, this despite the sale of last season’s top scorer Sam Baldock during the transfer window, and the increasingly peripheral part played by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, the other bright light from the dismal beginning of last season.
Steve Cotterill is the man who has overseen the dramatic change in fortunes. It is fair to say that he was not a universally popular appointment among a support base that believe the club should be associated with playing an expansive brand of football, even if they rarely witness it. Some were not over enamoured with a track record that looked steady rather than spectacular. However, as often happens, solidity outweighs ostentation in times of crises.
Under O’Driscoll, the board had announced a rather confused strategic plan named, in fine corporate jargon, “The Five Pillars”. Included in this was a recruitment policy concentrating on younger players, preferably under 24. The result was that in a physical division the midfield was more often than not outmuscled and bullied. Cotterill used his contacts from higher up the leagues to bring in experienced loanees, one of whom, Wade Elliott, gave the midfield the required leadership, quality and guile to compete. The side eventually recovered and finished in a comfortable mid-table slot.
Further progress and squad development was made over the summer as Cotterill continued to go against the earlier stated policy, preferring to sign players who are more mature and settled than young cannons. When he has brought in younger players they have been ones with match experience rather than untapped potential. New arrivals Aaron Wilbraham, Kieran Agard and Mark Little have all caught the eye – all three scored in last month’s win over Doncaster – as have Luke Freeman and Korey Smith.
This fixture usually produces a positive result for one of the sides, the last ten meetings at Oakwell have seen Barnsley win five matches to City’s four, and with Barnsley in lower mid-table the visitors travel in real hope of evening up that score. Even with the season barely a third gone, after this exceptional start, Bristol City fans are expecting at least a play-off berth, if not automatic promotion. Mo Davies