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Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Inside Line: Barnsley v Bristol City (25/10/2014)

“If you wanna be the best, if you wanna beat the best, oh-oh dedication’s what you need”

The Bristol City class of 2014-15 wrote their own piece of history on Tuesday night when their draw against Bradford meant that a club record that had lasted exactly sixty years had been broken, and we had gone 14 matches unbeaten from the start of a season.  To put that in context, it’s nearly one-third of the way through the season – a quite remarkable achievement which glossed over some of the disappointment in ‘only’ gaining a point on a windy night in BS3.

The record-breakers take their status on the road again this weekend to Oakwell, home of Barnsley, who have the son of an ex-City striking legend and an ex-City manager looking to put one over on the Robins.

Stu Radnedge spoke to Andy White  of the ‘Love Barnsley, Hate Football’ blog to find out more:

“My beloved Barnsley FC. Relegated last season, currently hovering above another relegation zone and shipping goals for fun - I shouldn't really be enjoying all this. But I am. Obviously, the losing games bit and conceding goals part I don't take much pleasure from, but I genuinely am enjoying season 2014-15. 

You see, it's been an absolute chore for large parts of the last eight years in the Championship. Most seasons merging into each other, such was the similarity of events. Lose your star players on the cheap, good form goes out the (January) window with them, recruit short term loanees, limp to safety by a few points. Repeat over the next 12 months and so on. Not to forget the changing of managers or indeed, the odd FA Cup run. It wasn't all bad. Just 90% of it. Probably. 

After the almost Roy of the Rovers style 'Great Escape' of 2012-13, masterminded by cliché ridden young manager David Flitcroft, we went into last term with rare optimism. We assumed we'd stumbled upon a good manager at last. Ok, he talked a lot of nonsense, but his record since taking charge was phenomenal. Perhaps we'd finally push on in the second tier and reclaim our status as something better than perennial relegation battlers? 

Perhaps not. I think we won just one of our first 18 games and the team didn't resemble anything like the one 'Flicker' guided to safety just a few months before. He was sacked, and after a month of deliberation we got the second coming of club legend, one Danny Wilson. The original miracle worker. If anybody could transform our fortunes it was 'r Danny'.... 

He did improve us. But hardly. His January loan and free transfer recruits were on paper exciting, a touch risky but gambling had to be done. Unfortunately, we backed the wrong horses. In fact, a horse would have made a better impact than the likes of Brek Shea, Martin Woods and Emmanuel Frimpong.

But, I welcomed the eventual relegation. We could hopefully get shot of the deadwood letting us down, allow Danny to assemble his own squad and look forward to finally competing in a division which is less about how much money you've got and more about team spirit. And if any Barnsley manager has ever cobbled together a squad brimming with enthusiasm and pride in the red shirt, it's 'r Danny'.

Unfortunately, getting shot of the deadwood might have been easy, but we soon realised that a few of our best players would have to be flogged too. And it took so long to get both Luke Steele and Chris O'Grady off the wage bill that our own recruitment drive didn't really kick into gear until a week or so before the big kick off. Our pre-season 'tour' of Italy comprised of about 18 academy lads. We just didn't have the players. 

And so it's no surprise what has happened so far this season. We're up and down like a yo-yo. No consistency. Fair to middling.

We've definitely signed a few promising young players though. Conor Hourihane is some player. Scored seven goals, created another seven and involved in all the rest. Probably. Luke Berry, signed from Cambridge, a little midfield dynamo, he's impressed me. And despite the goals not quite arriving for him, Sam Winnall has been a great addition up front. 

The revelation though at present, is his strike partner, the son of Andy - Devante Cole. On loan from Manchester City and far too good for this division. He's very green, very raw, but has explosive pace and an eye for goal. His father is at every game, home and away, and so keep your eyes out (Robins fans travelling up on Saturday) for your former hero.

Andy Cole (here wearing the now-famous #PurpleandLime) struck up a 
fantastic, exciting partnership with cult hero 'Jacki' Dziekanowski (below) in 
the early 90's before moving to Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United

As I say, we're inconsistent. So I couldn't begin to tell you what to look out for or our strengths and weaknesses. But in a nutshell, we're a threat going forward and wide open defensively. 

I have Bristol City down to win the title, and so far it's looking likely. It seems Mr Lansdown has spent a few pennies again. But it's nailed on that Leroy Lita will finally get off his lazy backside and come back to haunt his former side. Isn't it? Probably. 

Danny Wilson got City to the play-off final in Cardiff in 2004, but famously 
left Leroy Lita out and we lost 1-0 to a Leon Knight goal, for Brighton

Unless you beat us comfortably. Like everybody else at Oakwell. Probably.”

My thanks to Andy and to Stu for setting up the response.

Slightly ironic that we face a team managed by Danny Wilson who might have Leroy Lita to call on, given events in Cardiff http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_div_2/3750777.stm a decade ago!

Here’s to 15. COYR!

The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 17 October 2014

The Inside Line: Coventry City v Bristol City (18/10/2014)

As nearly 4,000 Robins' fans get set to descend on the Midlands this weekend, City approach this game still clear at the top of the table and scoring goals for fun. It's a good job too, as the defence, which looked stronger in the first few games than last season, is suddenly looking porous again and the loss of Korey Smith for this match up probably won't help matters.

Ahead of the tale of two cities, Stu Radnedge caught up with Joey from the excellent Nii Lamptey Show to give us this fabulous insight into the weird & wonderful recent tales of the Sky Blues.

"It seems there’s never a dull moment in the life of a Coventry City Wasps RFC fan!

The last time I wrote would have been on the eve of our 5-4 slugfest victory when we were exiled in Sixfields. This was a period of the season notable for both it’s swashbuckling and cavalier (football parlance for conceding loads of goals but somehow still winning) approach on the field and the uneasy feeling of going to watch a club playing outside of it’s home city.

The former, albeit glorious for the brief couple of months it lasted was still tainted by the latter. Thousands of Cov fans were boycotting games in protest at the move, thousands were unable to go because of the extra distance and the fact that many games were moved to Sunday and some lost interest altogether; feeling that the club they grew up with was no longer the one playing in a town 35 miles away.

As the season went on and performances dropped off we were left with a feeling flatter even than that which we’re used to around March time. Fans spent the season squaring up to each other, armed with keyboards, heaping opprobrium on their fellow fan for either going to watch the team they both support play football or not going to watch the team they both support play football.

The entire thing would have been very undignified had the word not been reclaimed and amplified beyond recognition by the club’s owners and Coventry City Council.  These two warring factions chose to spend the season pursuing a remarkably transparent game of tit-for-tat.  Both trying to financially distress the other with nothing but self interest in mind.

Ultimately it was the fans who lost out. When the two sides finally came to an agreement that allowed the club to play in a stadium that was built for the club to play in there was an outpouring of joy amongst Cov fans but also a disappointment that something that in the end seemed so simple to resolve couldn’t have been done a year earlier.

That’s where this messy tale should end.  We made it home, 27,000 saw us win our first game back; job done.

No. As usual there was more to come. We learned a few weeks later that half of the ground had been sold to Wasps Rugby Club. Quite why this admittedly peripatetic team should want to move permanently to a city whose residents are still smarting at the recent removal of their own major sports team is beyond me. Noises have been made along the lines that it was either move to Coventry or cease to exist but I’ve spoken to plenty of Wasps fans who consider the move to be tantamount to them not existing anyway. Initial talks seem to have been positive but there’s an uneasy air of uncertainty hanging over the club again.

Most of us thought that moving back into the Ricoh on a rental deal might pave the way to talks about buying the place but the owners of the football club are again talking about building ‘Fantasia Park’ (as some wags have dubbed it), a roughly 15,000 seat stadium ‘In the Coventry Area’.

This isn’t a popular idea amongst Cov fans.  If there’s one thing that unites us it’s the desire to make the Ricoh our home.  It’s a soulless bowl that’s too big for us but it’s also a symbol of hope, a roadside monolith that might one day house a football team playing at a level, in front of the number of fans that it deserves.  It’s an empty cabinet waiting for it’s first trophy.  It might seem unnecessary now but it’s indicative of ambition and if you can’t dare to dream as a football fan then what’s the point?  Our unified desire to play at the Ricoh is testament to something that all football fans will identify with. The feeling that there’s ‘always next season’. That you’re only a decent manager or a 20-goal-a-season striker away from that title challenge or cup run. Even at a time when supporter apathy is at an all time high there’s still that impotent hope that something good is just around the corner but as they say, ‘it’s the hope that kills you...'

With all of this it’s sometimes difficult to remember that you do this because you like to watch football matches.  It’s been a mixed season on the field so far.  Any early season optimism has been dashed by a run of five league games without a win.  We threw away a 2-0 lead before half time at home to draw against an awful Crawley side and our recent 2-1 defeat at bottom club Crewe was desperately poor.  We had won three in a row when our captain and summer signing Reda Johnson lost his head into the head of an opponent and got sent off against Scunthorpe in a game we were leading 1-0.  We lost that game in the end and have looked worse since his suspension.  Hopefully he will be available again for our game on Saturday as he looks like one of the few players we have that is capable of playing at a higher level.

Our manager is Steven Pressley, a loveable Scot who flips from sartorial sophistication to tracksuit clad bawler in the blink of an eye. He’s recently been given a four year contract but his popularity is on the wane amongst some Cov fans who are desperate for their new manager fix after nearly 18 months with the same one in charge.

He has favoured a 3-5-2 system so far this season which has prompted much debate.  Many will point to this as the reason for our recent ill fortune on the pitch but it’s probably fairer to say that our total lack of physical presence, cutting edge or clinical finishing would be detrimental to any system.

On the plus side, fans of running about a lot have been impressed with industriously inefficient workhorse Jim O’Brien; a player who is widely regarded as having played well for us despite no one being able to remember what he’s actually done.

The team is full of young, local lads and Ryan Haynes and Aaron Philips have looked good out wide albeit in patches and in the JPT game against Exeter we finished the game with nine academy products on the pitch.  The team revolves around John Fleck in midfield.  He’s a gifted footballer capable of unlocking defences with ease but has gone missing too often this season.  A lot of how well we do depends on whether he turns up or not.

On the way out of the Crewe game I heard many Cov fans remark that it would be ‘typical’ for us to beat Bristol City having just lost to Crewe.

It wouldn’t. We don’t really beat anybody. I’m predicting a 2-0 defeat for us on Saturday but there’s always hope eh?"

A negative and somewhat despondent view which we all hope transforms into reality!

I will add that I am not in the minority in being delighted that Coventry are back playing in their own city - albeit still seemingly with problems - something all fans need as the most basic requirement for their support.

My thanks to all involved in this piece, a truly fascinating story!


The Exiled Robin

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