Ffion Thomas took the Megabus all the way to Bristol. On a Tuesday night. Just so she could bring you these words. All hail Ffion.
Random star performer
Aaron Wilbraham, for still leading the line in Championship football at the age of 37 and having the confidence to sport an incongruous haircut and beard in a shameless attempt to make himself look 15 years younger which is fooling no-one. Long live Wilbrahamovic.
Moment of the match
Steven Naismith, having bamboozled their defence with a burst of pace to beat the offside trap and meet Jerome’s clever chipped pass, finding himself in acres of space with just the keeper to beat - and managing to put it wide. For once, he could only blame himself. Add that to Wildschut’s earlier sidefoot across the face of goal, and we should have been 3-0 up at half time against what was a very poor Bristol City side. Perhaps it was lethargy, perhaps complacency, but the second half performance was insipid and, although our opponents didn’t exactly seem to have had a half time rocket up them either, we would inevitably be made to pay for our earlier wastefulness.
There were few moments of controversy in this game, and few big decisions to make.
Biggest positive to take
It was good to see Yanic Wildschut finally make his mark – he had hardly set the world alight in his appearances so far, but he scored a peach here, albeit against little resistance as he drove at their floundering defence. Believe it or not, but there is a Championship table we top this season: that of Goals Scored From Outside The Box, which comprise 15 of our total haul of 61. Our closest contenders for this prized honour are Brighton on 10, so we are properly out in front. This might be a dismal season, but at least we’ve scored loads of bangers.
Where to start? Well, how about with that in 2017 alone we’ve played Rotherham, Wigan, Burton and Bristol City away. All of these teams were in the bottom four when we played them – Rotherham have leaked an astonishing 81 goals already! – and yet we’ve only taken two points from the twelve available. Brighton and Newcastle have already played those four teams away this season as well – both of them took maximum points.
Combine that with last week’s widely reported stat regarding our inability to beat almost all the current top ten either home or away, and it’s a challenge to remember where our 15 wins have come from at all. Ah, that’s right, at home against strugglers and mid-table sides – so come on down, Blackburn and Barnsley.
A good turnout for a long midweek trip, and the away fans got behind the team, albeit with the usual gallows humour. Inevitably, however, the full-time chants turned on the manager.
Ashton Gate is almost unrecognisable from our last visit in 2010, with three of its stands having been either rebuilt or refurbished, increasing the capacity to 27,000. The works were funded by owner Steve Lansdown, whose umbrella organisation Bristol Sport now oversees the day to day operations of the Robins as well as the city’s rugby, basketball, badminton and motorsport teams. It’s part of a vision to make Bristol more prominent on the sporting map, hence the extremely prevalent and somewhat nauseating #MakingBristolProud hashtag. As well as there being rugby markings on the pitch, adverts for tickets to other sports and even basketball highlights were prominently featured on the big screen and hoardings.
Perhaps understandably, not all of the football fans are entirely enthused about the imposition of this Grandstand-esque plethora of sports on their turf. Exacerbated by on-pitch struggles, there seemed a general atmosphere of malaise about the place, with the new – and somewhat inevitably named – Lansdown Stand looking big and shiny, but also very empty.
Relegation to League One is a very real prospect, but if the Bristol Sport vision is to succeed, its football arm will need to be competing at the top of the Championship at the very least.
The season’s over, do we have to carry on going? The anguished howling and kicking of seats in response to Bristol City’s equaliser felt more performative than anything; we’ve put ourselves in a position where results have essentially been rendered meaningless. Maybe we’ve been spoilt with nigh-on 10 years of excitement all season long, but all I can see from now until May is stagnation, misery, in-fighting, and having to watch Brighton confirm promotion on our patch at the end of April. Chris Hughton will be hoisted on his team’s shoulders, a hand cupped to his ear as he grins at the Barclay, while Alex Pritchard will look on, wiping away tears of regret. Probably.
Or, of course, the club could take ownership of the situation and appease us all by bringing in a new manager now, giving them – whoever it might be – 10 or so ‘free’ games to settle in, assess the squad’s obvious limitations, and contribute to a proper recruitment strategy so we can hit the ground running in the transfer window. Seems reasonable, no?