Saturday, December 5th 2020
An excellent and well-deserved win for Blues at their happy hunting ground of Ashton Gate in Bristol.
This would usually have been my away game closer than a home game game, as I live only four miles from Bristol City’s ground. But, like all other Blues fans, I had to content myself with watching it on Blues TV. And for once it made for good viewing as Blues turned their current form on its head.
Karanka reverted to his preferred 4-2-3-1 with Kieft recalled to anchor with Sunjic, Toral bought in as the number ten and Bela and Sanchez flanking lone striker Hogan upfront. Friend also move across the replace the very out of sorts Pedersen on the left-hand side of the defence.
The result of the changes was a much more solid, committed first-half performance, low on excitement but high on endeavour. And, initially, that was what was needed after some abject and spineless performances of late, especially Wycombe and Barnsley at home.
It was the much-maligned Dutch Mike who set the tempo. We know that he has his limitations, particularly in passing, but his snapping into tackles and pressing opponents has the ability to galvanise his teammates into action.
This was the case as Blues built on the solidity of the first half by taking the game to the Robins and dominating the second. It was Kief’s tackle and carrying of the ball forward soon after the restart that swung the momentum in Blues direction. Suddenly Bela and Sanchez came to life and started causing all sorts of problems for the Bristol backline by running at them and using their trickery to start creating chances.
Blues started peppering Bentley’s goal, Sunjic prominent with his shooting from distance. An obvious penalty shout under the current rules came and went and you wondered whether Blues were about to be suckered. But the defence never really looked in much trouble. Wells and Martin were conspicuous by their absence for most of the game, as Dean marshalled the defence with Sunjic and Kieftenbeld helping to keep the home team at arm’s length. Etheridge’s only save of note came in the first half when he did well to keep out O’ Dowda’s point-blank effort after the ball had broken to Robins’ forward in the box.
Blues kept pressing as Halilovic entered the fray to replace a tiring Toral.
The deserved breakthrough finally came after good work from Bela won a corner on the left-hand side. The diminutive winger took it himself and it was met with a thumping header by Dean. Bentley got hands to the captain’s header but there was enough power on it to make sure that both the ball and keeper ended up over the line.
After that, it was more likely that Blues would add to their tally rather than there being an equaliser as the increased confidence showed in the away team’s slick passing and movement. This was important as taking the lead in a couple of games recently has resulted in the Blues retreating into their shell and losing the game by forfeiting the momentum.
All-in-all an excellent display in the west country with improvements in all areas of Blues game. It confirms what many have suspected that, especially with the current coach, 4-2-3-1 is the way to go.
Celebratory mince pie anybody?
- Mostly everything was better than it has been. All departments played better. Looked like a team.
- Attitude was spot on, from keeping it tight in the first half, to taking it to the opposition in the second and, crucially, not falling back or losing confidence after scoring.
- Dutch Mike.
- Real exciting wing play from both Bela and Sanchez.
- A suitable formation found.
- Nothing about Blues’ performance in this game made me unhappy.
- Can they now consistently produce displays of this quality?
Etheridge – 6
Another really quiet game which is testament to the good work being done in front of him by the defence and defensive midfielders. One very good save in the first half from O’ Dowda when called upon.
Colin – 7
Much steadier than of late, like the rest of the defence. More comfortable as an orthodox right-back than wing-back.
Friend – 8
Pinned down the left-hand side which has been so open of late and found time to get forward. Leadership skills in evidence as well.
Roberts – 7
Good solid game against a couple of experienced Championship forwards in Wells and Martin.
Dean – 8
Didn’t let Martin have a sniff, organised the rest of the defence, showed leadership. Bought into the idea of Blues having to force the pace more by a couple of runs out of defence with the ball.
Kieftenbeld – 9
You know what you’re going to get with Dutch Mike and that was exactly what was needed to pull Blues out of their recent slump. Gave the Bristol City midfield no time to dwell on the ball, won it back and got the Blues going forward. Man of the match, for me.
Sunjic – 8
Good at all those Sunjic things, snapping at the heels, filling the space the opposition runners want to get into, crunching, bordering on reckless, tackles, but also part of the great movement forward in the second half, as he peppered Bentley’s goal with long shots.
Sanchez – 8
Really started to play again and looked very dangerous in the second half after a few weeks of being off the boil. Always looks better further forward when he can get directly at the defenders. One cut inside and shot against the post suggests that it won’t be long until that elusive first goal arrives.
Toral – 6
Didn’t make the most of his opportunity in the number ten role and these chances may start becoming rarer as Halilovic gets up to speed. The Croat looked much neater and comfortable on the ball when he came on than Toral had done during his seventy-odd minutes.
Bela – 8
Very good and we got a full ninety minutes out of him. Scared Mariappa to death in the second half with his runs and trickery to the point where the Robins’ full-back was substituted. Quality dead ball delivery as well again.
Hogan – 6
OK. Relatively quiet as the rest of the forwards got into gear. Didn’t have a lot of service to be fair and didn’t miss any chances.