By Bristol Boy
So thatís it. Itís over. Weíve done it.
Say it quietly, but Bristol City are back where we and, in fairness many other impartial judges, think we belong: The Championship.
Was it like Wigan & Lutonís promotion? Did we pile up the goals, play the beautiful game and destroy the opposition, steaming ahead by winning the first ten games? Did we heck!
This is Bristol City and, donít ask me why, but itís never easy or straight forward.
Our latest manager proved his point and justified the faith that Steve Lansdown had in him before and after his appointment, when things got tough.
If the end justifies the means and, in this case, I think it does, then this achievement is as much, if not more, a triumph for change management, organisation, single mindedness (some would say bloody mindedness on occasions), than what GJ calls, cosmic football.
Thatís not to say that we didnít play some cracking stuff at times. Our away win at Oldham stands out for me and our performances in the cup, particularly with a weakened team against Middlesborough and away at Coventry, were real quality.
Injuries to Steve Brooker blighted our season as did his incarceration & illness. When youíre managing a football team you expect injuries & illness, but there are limits to the things that are sent to try us and when Orr head butted Carey the night that Sky TV put a million on Cotterill's value, I sat at Sixfields pondering our very average start to the season when the run in the previous season had promised so much. That City turned that game around and kick started our season, says much for the strength of character that Johnson has engendered as was exemplified by a tearful Orr on Sky TV.
That Friday saw three players jailed and the luckless Scott Brown sentenced, a full eleven months after the event. That sent shockwaves around the club and the feeling that those boys had been made an example of still rancourís and there is still a certain coolness, shall we say, against the written media.
In a funny way (well, it wasnít funny if you were one of the AG Four), that win at Northampton galvanised the club. The supporters rallied around, although split on their views of the incident and a bunker mentality ensued.
Right or wrong, it doesnít matter, but it worked and the same ďus against the worldĒ attitude successfully established by Ferguson & Mourinho, became apparent.
Who remembers GJís interview with Richard Latham after the Brighton game? The one we won with Scott Brown's close range strike from Myrie Williams' cut back, when he spoke of his pride in the team and berated the interviewers seeming lack of it by cutting the interview short-ďIím proud of Ďem and so should you beĒ GJ told Latham.
Our away form was a concern later on as were the injuries to Brooker & Showunmi that seemed to last forever.
It seems like the right time for a stat attack and Iíve tried to find some interesting ones:
Iíll start with one that many may miss-
City used 29 players last season. So what?
So only three clubs used less. The season before weíd used 36 and only four clubs used more. Remember the loans? Remember the effect? Still think it didnít matter?
Player with most appearances in League One: Adriano Basso. Not just for City, but League One.
Goals For: Joint 7th
Goals Against: Joint 2nd with Yeovil. Only Scunthorpe conceded less.
Home Wins: Joint top with Scunthorpe
Away Wins: Third behind Scunthorpe & Blackpool
We gained automatic promotion without a prolific League goal scorer. Jevons top scored with 11 in 31 starts & 10 substitute appearances, including four pens and Showunmi 10 also including one penalty in 28 starts & 5 substitute appearances.
Brooker's 19 league starts yielded two goals in a season to forget for him.
Put all of our strikers league tallies together and you wouldnít reach Billy Sharp's tally of 30 Goals in 45 league games this season.
We lost only one game by more than a single goal which was Blackpool 4-2 at home.
We won ten League Games by two goals and never scored more than three goals in a League game. We scored four once in 58 games, conceding three in our F.A.Cup win against Gillingham.
Eighteen players scored one goal or more for City this season.
Second Highest Average Attendance: By a whisker from Swansea at 12,818. 8,000 Less than Forest's though.
Goal of the season?
It wasnít the best, but I reckon the most important was Wayne Andrews winner at Blackpool in a game that saw us change formation at least three times and Kevin Betsy play every position apart from the right wing role he was signed to play.
The two JPT games against the Rovers. Not losing, but the quality of the games that must have put fans who returned to the clubs to watch them off ever going again. We had a opportunity to showcase Bristol as a footballing City and blew it with two games that were abysmall. Over zealous and frankly, unnecessary policing in my opinion, made it a dark and dismal experience.
The season has started poorly and saw City travelling to Northampton in a live TV match up with the pre-season favourites lying in 20th place. The wins sparked a recovery and strikers or no strikers, we were third by the end of September and that run continued to see City in second place by the end of October.
Having won only three away games at the end of December, City were in second place and only three points behind Forest.
The Christmas period heralded winnable games...didnít they?Hang on, who are we talking about here? Twelve points were there for the taking, but some comedy moments saw us
P4 W1 D3 L0 F7 A6 Pionts: 6/12
We should, not could, have been 4-0 down at half time against Cheltenham at Whaddon Rd but a typical GJ inspired fight back saw the introduction of Louis Carey and City come out of it with a point as second half goals by Bradley Orr & a late, late show by McCombe, set the tone for the team coming to be known as 'the come back kids'.
The end of January saw City third behind new leaders Scunthorpe, by only three points. Four wins on the spin, including a brilliant away win at Coventry in the FA Cup. City being City we couldnít leave it at that and after another amazing fight back to draw with Middlesborough at a packed Ashton Gate, we slumped to a 1-0 defeat only four days later against ďstrugglingĒ Cheltenham. Funny, they rarely struggle against us!!
February was a real curates egg with vital league wins at the seaside against Brighton & Blackpool. One to forget against Huddersfield at home. Make that two because our televised game at Scunthorpe saw Billy Sharp help them gain revenge for an opening day defeat at Ashton Gate in a game in which we started brightly then faded.
We finished the month in fourth Place, but only one point behind second placed Yeovil with a game in hand. It also saw us do something quite rare: Play badly twice in games against the Rovers and, without wishing to sound sour, I thought that neither side deserved to score, never mind win and if ever a game should have been decided on penalties, this was it (and I detest that method of settling a game).
P7 W5 D1 L1 F10 A5 Pts 16/21
We finished the month in second place on seventy five points, four behind Scunny but, more importantly, four ahead of Forest. Just for good measure, when Ashton Gate expected, we experienced some Roy of The Rovers shooting and a Basso comedy moment, as relegated Bradford confirmed a double over City.
It was in this month that yours truly experienced his comedy moment of the season when he was locked in after our 3-1 win at Chesterfield. After speaking to Radio Bristol, I tried to leave the stand only to find myself locked in!
I saw some steam coming out of a room and went in to find myself in the laundry room. The nice man told me where to go nicely and that was the players tunnel, so there we were- BB, Keith Millen, Stuart Naylor, Roy McFarland & Alan Walsh all walking down the tunnel after doing interviews on the pitch followed by David Noble & Richard Keogh!!
ďWell done lads,Ē I said as I scurried past the dressing room, somewhat embarrassed.
Forest arrived at AG for a game that I always felt was a must win.... for them.
Calderwood's negative approach wasnít rewarded with more than a point and we should have won. After saying Iíd be happy with five points against Forest, Swansea & Yeovil and that Eighty Four points would be enough,I felt great when the five points arrived in April.
So, this was it...the final Count down. Could we do it?
P5 W2 D1 L2 F5 A2 Pts 7/15
With scant regard to my sanity or heart condition, City contrived to play poorly at both Gillingham & Millwall, losing both games one nil.Was Calderwoods "choker" jibe to be proved right?
A superb home win against Yeovil and an even better second half at Carlisle, saw City edge ahead in the run in.
P1 W1 D0 L0 F3 A1 Pts 3/3
If someone had offered me this at the end of August, Iíd have snapped their arm off up to the shoulder. Beat relegated Rotherham and youíre up! But wait...how about relegated Bradford that we spoke about earlier and almost relegated Cheltenham who seem to have a bit of a voodoo on City?
With a packed AG, the East End open and highly sensible minimal segregation, would City be up for it? It was never a doubt in my mind. Then again, who are we talking about again?
We won. We deserved to win and, after Forty Six games together with Twelve in the cup this season, we ended with an explosion of relief and joy as thousands emptied onto the Ashton Gate pitch.
Has the journey been completed?
I hope not and I think GJís best chance of managing in The Premiership is with City or perhaps after proving himself with City in The Championship, moving on and getting promoted with someone else.
Many congratulations to Gary Johnson and his back room staff including the physios who have really played their part this year. Did GJ get it all right? No, but neither does Ferguson, Mourinho or Benitez.
Tactically, weíve had some formations forced upon us and some genuine moments of inspiration. Noble in the hole when we had one fit striker in either tie against Boro. Skuse wide left or wide right against Blackpool was an odd one.
One striker up front and we knock eight past Rotherham, Carlisle & Yeovil with that striker scoring one of them! Keogh at left back against Gillingham & Murray in the hole against the Gas, were others that I doubt we'll see again.
Kevin Betsy at left wing back and everywhere else at Blackpool. As improbable as that sounds, it was one of Betsyís best performances!!
Can GJ take us further? Well, Iíd hope so, but in truth, I thought John Ward would and it didnít happen.Not withstanding that,I'll stick my neck on the block and say I think he will, although no one can say for sure.
Once again, itíll be an emotional roller coaster and Iíll be on it, home & away.
MY SEASON RATINGS
PLAYER OF THE SEASON: Louis Carey
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON: Richard Keogh
MOST IMPROVED: Bradley Orr
BEST SIGNING: Jamie McCombe
BASSO: 9/10 I canít see what more the guy could have done. Of course there have been mistakes, but there were also 19 clean sheets in the League and more in the cup.56 Appearances out of 58 possible.
ORR: 8/10 They say what doesnít destroy you completely only makes you stronger and this bloke's had his fair share of, it has to be said, self induced distractions this year. Through it all, his character enthusiasm and genuine belief in a manager whoís stuck by him through thick & thin, has shone through. Heís repaid that faith by improving as a defender and with goals. His distribution is improving and his contribution as a leader with a heart the size of a dustbin lid will be needed next season.
MCALLISTER: 7/10 The final part of the season was spoilt by injuries and he clearly finished the season as heíd started it at less than 100%.To many bookings marks him down from an eight and weíll need his mental toughness, ability and leadership, without the unnecessary niggle, next season. An excellent signing, Iíd like to see more performances like the one at Oldham where he was outstanding. Part of a superb defensive unit.
CAREY: 9/10 Emerged as an outstanding defender and a real leader. Some vital goals and only some silly suspensions have stopped me from giving him ten. I think heíll be here next season and heís my player of the season.
MCCOMBE: 9/10 The catalyst for our improvement when he became a regular. Quiet guy, but a real leader who epitomised the attitude that Johnson demands, irrespective of ability. Not the quickest, but if he can mark Viduka & Yakubu then I hope he can adapt to the demands of The Championship, week in, week out. Our fourth highest goal scorer and a useful long throw.
FONTAINE: 6/10 Started poorly after signing in the close season. Lost his place to McCombe and had to settle for covering roles at centre & left back as suspensions and injuries kicked in.
MURRAY: 7/10 Missed the vital run in with a bad injury and how we missed his goals, spirit and lively play, when his confidence returned after a poor start.
JOHNSON: 8/10 Another player who took time to settle in and seemed to feel the weight of the accusations of nepotism when he arrived which, as Iíve said ad nauseum, were never his fault. The fourth highest number of appearances in all of League One & Cups, heís as fit as a flea and I want to see him getting closer to goal & shooting more next season. The long range passing needs to be pacier and a player of his undoubted ability must effect the game and score more.
RUSSELL: 7/10 A player who doesnít always get noticed and far better in the final third than heís given credit for, although our system doesnít allow him to get there on enough occasions. His appearances may be limited next season, but could well prove a valuable member of the squad again.
SKUSE:7/10 Another one who falls into the quiet, unassuming category. Does all the scruffy stuff brilliantly and doesnít get suspended or sent off. Good defensively, but he must move on to be effective in the final third, score some goals and create more, unless we move to a three man central midfield with Cole as the anchor, ala Makele.
NOBLE:7/10 Didnít play enough games (18 League) but made a real contribution towards the end, playing in the hole behind a loan striker. The first time we tried it, it was forced on us by our striker shortage against Boro and you couldnít imagine Noble playing anywhere else, so well has he fitted in. Added goals to promise against Rotherham and Iíd love to see him playing there behind two, as opposed to one, quality strikers. Regular end product and goals are needed and playing a three man central midfield also enables GJ to get Lee Johnson & Noble in the same midfield. Formation may prove an important part of David Nobles Bristol City Future.
JEVONS:6/10 Didnít get enough goals to establish himself and whilst skilful and clever on the ball, often frustrates with his lack of physical strength and pace. I wouldnít be surprised to see him leave in the summer.
BROOKER: 4/10 His season started poorly and got worse. He was out of form and that was probably worry about the ensuing court case. Jailed, then injured in a freak accident when looking back to his best at Port Vale. More injuries and more illness followed. Needs a good summer and an early return to full fitness before a strong pre-season to re-convince the AG faithfull. Everyone wants to see a fit & firing Steve Brooker.
SHOWUNMI: 7/10 Started brightly, but then faded with injuries and illness before re-establishing himself. The goals dried up later on in the season and Showunmi is very much a work in progress after entering professional football late on. GJ seems frustrated 7 pleased with him in almost equal measure, so I donít know about next season.
KEOGH: 7/10 Really made his mark this season, even when played out of position at right back and then in midfield on a few brief occasions. Deceptively quick, needs games and needs experience but sound distribution, bravery, heading, competitive spirit, confidence, the odd mazy dribble and that smile, will make him a big player in the future.
SMITH: 5/10 Deadline day signing and looks a decent player with an excellent character and ethic about him. Not exactly full of goals and with GJ obviously on the look out for additional strikers, I canít see him staying.
MYRIE-WILLIAMS:6/10 Overplayed due to injuries earlier in the season an didnít really get a chance next to Brooker or Showunmi. Left sided, quick, gets his head up and one for the future. That could mean adding a stone of muscle and an inch in height-It could also mean an extended League One or Two loan depending on who GJ brings in at itíll be two strikers at least.
WOODMAN: 6/10 Didnít play much, but didnít let us down. Looks like moving on. A quiet lad and a very underrated defender. If I was a League One or Two Manager and wanted a steady Eddie who turns in a 7/10 performance every week, Iíd be on the phone to GJ right now. Thanks Craig
WEALE: 4/10 Another season destroyed by injury, but looked good in the 140 minutes or so he played for us. No doubt heíll be here next season and provide much needed cover & competition for Basso.
BROWN: 7/10 Must go down as the unluckiest player at the club and I wish him well in the future. I still canít understand why he went from Player of the month to unwanted and why GJ saw fit to gamble £300k on Wilson & Betsy coming the other way-Ask yourself, would you want SB + £300K or the two signings??
BETSY: 6/10 A player with obvious skill and ability. Balanced & strong with two good feet. A few decent performances but far to many when he didnít effect the game or score enough for a player with those attributes.
WILSON: 6/10 Like Betsy, a curates egg of an arrival after a bright full debut at Oldham on the left flank. Played at RWB (His best position, for me) wide right and wide left. Some vital assists at BHA and against Yeovil & Forest but no goals and not great consistency.
The views expressed in this 'Soapbox' section are those of the author of each article and do not necessarily reflect those of the Bristol City Supporters Trust>