Bristol City on Road to Recovery Under Lee Johnson

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xxxx during the Sky Bet Championship match between Bristol City and Bolton Wanderers at Ashton Gate on September 26, 2017 in Bristol, England.

Lee Johnson’s Bristol City have enjoyed the season so far. They are fourth in the Championship and unbeaten in 11 league and cup games. City hold the current joint-top scorer and top assist maker in the Championship and have a brand new 27,000 seater stadium ready for top flight football.

Cider heads at Ashton Gate have certainly forgotten the woes of last season—the West Country club won just once in 17 league outings during a bleak winter. 23 Championship games after that run ended, City now have an outside chance of winning promotion. But apart from their goal GIFs on Twitter, what’s been key to this drastic turnaround for a side that barely survived relegation last year?

City’s ‘steel’ in defence

After the 3-1 triumph against Ipswich, their first at Portman Road in 39 years, Lee Johnson proclaimed, ‘last year we didn’t have the steel; this year I’ve been impressed with how we’ve dug in’.

A settled quartet of Bailey Wright, Aden Flint, Nathan Baker and Joe Bryan started five of the six league games together last month; a September in which Johnson’s team dropped just four out of 18 points and kept three clean sheets. Retaining fan-favourite Flint was vital after an unsettled transfer window for the 28-year-old. The towering centre-back was subject to interest from league rivals, including two bids from Birmingham City. Baker, meanwhile, is used to Johnson’s methods after being on loan at City during the 2015-2016 campaign. Bryan also provides an attacking outlet with accurate crossing and overlapping runs.

The Johnson brand of football

Lee, like father Gary before him, pays huge attention to detail, prioritises fitness and possession-based football. He uses drones in every session at Failand training ground to monitor players’ general progress with statistical analysis. The head coach likes to oversee all operations at the club’s North Somerset training base.

On the pitch, figures of 51.7% and 75.4% for average possession and pass success rate so far this season are testament to Johnson’s philosophy. This is replicated by the type of midfielder brought in by the young manager; a typically a slightly built yet fast box-to-box player with technical ability. Assist chart-topper Jamie Paterson as well as Callum O’Dowda and Josh Brownhill all fit this mould.

The little and large partnership

City fans mourned Tammy Abraham’s departure at the end of his loan spell last season. The teenager netted 26 goals in all competitions last year in his debut season in the EFL, but the void filled by his strength and ability has miraculously been filled this season. Academy product Bobby Reid and £5.3 million signing Famara Diedihou have 14 goals between them in all competitions.

Reid has been a revelation since he swapped the midfield for the forward line. The 24-year-old is undoubtedly the in-form player in the Championship right now. Diedihou meanwhile provides strength, competent hold up play and heading accuracy.

The academy

A problem troubling Robins fans in recent years has been the productivity of the club’s academy. Why has the biggest club in a city of 450,000 people only produced four regular first-team players in the last decade? This trend is changing after vast investment in the academy. Former players Brian Tinnion and Jamie McAllister have also been installed as chief scout and under-23’s coach respectively.

Zak Vyner and Max O’Leary are on the fringes of the first XI whilst Lloyd Kelly has earned England under 20’s selection. Freddie Hinds scored two goals in his two Carabao Cup appearances in August. City are building a sustainable development path in the academy which is in congruence with the club’s ethos. Now the rewards are starting to become evident.

Excellent ownership

Bristol City fans are forever indebted to billionaire major-shareholder Steve Lansdown. He continually writes off the club’s debts every year and funded the new-look £45 million Ashton Gate. Lansdown deserves massive credit for staying loyal to Lee Johnson and assistant coach Dean Holden during last season’s period of adverse form.

Chief executive officer Mark Ashton also warrants praise for recruitment operations. Unknown overseas talent like Diedihou as well as loanee signings like Abraham have proved so successful at BS3.

The Championship is an impossible league to predict. When teams like Huddersfield Town and Bournemouth can achieve promotion to the Premier League, there is no reason why teams like City cannot also upset the odds. With the current form and the development programme in place, City are surely among the candidates for a place in the Premier League next season. Watch this space, and keep watching the goal GIFs.

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I am primarily interested in and write about lower league English football, I support Bristol City and follow Nottingham Forest and Notts County. Cricket, in particular Somerset and England as well as Bath Rugby include some of my other sport writing interests as well as European and Premier League football. In terms of previous and current sports journalism experience, I was sport editor of my university's radio station and magazine last year, have been nominated for Student Publication Awards and Student Radio Awards and have had work experience at two regional newspapers. I am also currently studying for a masters degree in broadcast journalism.

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