After a resounding 3-0 win on the road Tuesday, for the Lads it’s very much, thank you, next as we welcome ostrich loving Nigel Pearson’s Bristol City to the Stadium of Light Saturday.
The west country men from south of the river in Bristol threaten to be a different proposition to the side Nigel Pearson put out last time, now on a very impressive unbeaten run. So what’s the difference? Well they got rid of the popular five at the back and have reverted to the old school, does what it says in the tin, 4-4-2 formation.
This has allowed players to play in their natural positions and do what they do best (memories of having three midfielders in our back line last season still reminds me of how good we have it now). They’ve moved on a few players with Chris Martin going to Tuesday’s night’s victims QPR, and Antoine Semenyo to Premier League strugglers Bournemouth for a whopping £10.25m. Han Noah Massengo has also moved on as well as goalkeeper Dan Bentley, leaving Max O’Leary to take the gloves.
In terms of incomings, January saw Anis Mehmeti come in from League One’s play off losers Wycombe Wanderers. From our time in that slum of a division it was clear that Mehmeti was a real talent, particularly from dead balls, and will certainly be one to watch Saturday. Also one to be aware of is City’s version of Dan Neil, young Alex Scott, who is a ball-playing centre midfielder who is also a big feature in the England age groups.
Andreas Weimann is the captain and arguably their biggest goal threat, the forward scored against us in the encounter back in August when we were under then boss Alex Neil. Striker Harry Cornick came in in January from fellow promotion rivals Luton Town, but is yet to open his account for the Robins, after limited game time with his former club. Nahki Wells is likely to feature from the bench, and he’s a canny operator and certainly one that’ll need a reducer or two.
For the Lads they are in the wake of a real run of form that’s not just about the results, but the nature at which they are picking apart decent, stubborn opposition. I would expect the side to resemble a similar line up to the team that started against Reading, with Alex Pritchard pushing to shake up that line up.
Tony Mowbray will be tempted to bring Championship punch bag Dennis Cirkin back in, as he can be a better support for Jack Clarke, however Aji Alese has done very little to be dropped. Luke O’Nien may too have staked a strong claim after Tuesday to be preferred to the wee Frenchman, Edouard Michut.
Saturday will be a far different dynamic to the game back in August, with City now looking much more organised, a settled playing style, and most importantly in-form. And for the Lads we don’t have the luxury of the Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms combo this time around, and it’s also not going to be hot and sunny. The aftermath of Storm Otto may take its toll on the match day experience – I can almost see the litter sweeping across the playing surface now.
If we can nullify the distribution of Alex Scott, I can’t see their front line being any match for big bad Dan Ballard and Danny Batth. Last time out Jack Clarke tortured their wing back, and he’ll be looking to cause similar damage after a confidence boosting brace against QPR. Joe Gelhardt showed glimpsed of his quality on Tuesday, and the hope is a first goal isn’t too far away as he builds up to 90 minute fitness.
In a week where De La Soul’s Dave Jolicoeur passed, Sunderland will be looking to make three their magic number as they look to make Bristol City their third home win on the spin. With 15 games to go the promotion hunt is truly on, but the Lads should only be thinking of Me, Myself and I and not lose focus on what’s going on around them. This talented young team don’t know their ceiling yet, and while that is the case, they’ll keep on pushing to secure that day at Wembley.
Ha’way the Lads.