Off the back of a mauling at home to Fulham, Reading’s job doesn’t get any easier at the weekend. The Royals make the relatively short trip along the M4 to Ashton Gate to take on Bristol City, who are going for promotion this season after narrowly missing out on the top six in 2018/19.
To get an in-depth take on everything Bristol City, we spoke to The Exiled Robin. He told us about City’s start to the season, promotion hopes, what he thinks of Reading, and much more besides. NB: These answers were written before Bristol City’s trip to Brentford on Wednesday evening.
How would you sum up your start to the season?
Decent! There have been plenty of opportunities to win many of the games we’ve drawn, which may mean a few are a tad disappointed, but going into Wednesday’s match against Brentford we’re unbeaten since the opening weekend home schooling by Leeds United and, considering we’ve had five or six long-term injuries to players who would be at the core of our first team, it’s hard to find cause for complaint.
Our form has largely carried on as per last season: strong away from home - no team in England has more points on the road than us in 2019 - whilst at home we struggle a bit to put teams away and have had a lot of draws, only picking up two wins in our last 11 league games. We thought with the signing of Benik Afobe we might have finally found a bit of a solution to that particular problem, but an unfortunate training-ground fall means he’s out for the season with his third ACL injury.
As it stands, how confident are you that you can go one further than last season and get into the top six (or better)?
The whole club is now geared towards it. The stadium, the facilities within it and surrounding it on matchdays, the infrastructure and coaching staff are all in place. Now it’s about getting the team right. Interestingly it looks as if Lee Johnson’s taken a bit of a gamble in slightly changing how we play and allowing stalwart Marlon Pack to leave in August.
He dictated the pace and style of play from his anchorman position in midfield, but we have looked to get more dynamic players in there instead which has arguably made us weaker defensively, but more likely to score on a speedy counter-attack. Whether it will be enough is anyone’s guess; there look to be about 12-14 teams all in with a good shout of the play-offs with a fair wind.
What are the main strengths of this Bristol City side?
The main one is work-rate. We don’t really have any ‘stars’ in the team but work hard for each other and don’t stop until the final whistle. We vary our play and style regularly, often changing formation two or three times within a match and seem to be able to match up to most teams.
At the start of the season I’d have said scoring goals. We were fairly solid last season and over the past few seasons we have had very, very few games where there have been more than two goals in it. We never seem to win comfortably, but equally we’re rarely totally out of the games we lose either. But this season we’ve already had two 3-3 draws and scored two or more goals in seven of our last eight matches.
It’s tricky to truly assess this one with the injuries we have though. Record signing Tomas Kalas has barely played, England under-21 left back Jay Dasilva has been out since day one, Pack’s replacement Adam Nagy hasn’t featured since mid-August and, with Afobe now out too, there’s a core of the team there we’ve missed in a big way. It’ll be interesting to see how our style shapes up when a few of them are back.
What do you make of Reading at the moment?
Reading already appear to have gone through a bit of a rollercoaster, with pre-season expectations fairly low, the Chinese investment causing a transfer deadline frenzy-buzz and offering renewed hope of pushing into the top half, but now you’re back in the slumps again after the midweek hammering at home to Fulham.
I’m relieved John Swift will be suspended on Saturday - he’s looked in great form so far this season - but like us you appear to be a little stronger away from the pressure of a home crowd, so it could mean we’re closely matched this weekend.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
As I said above, we’re not really ones for big scores but given your position and form, and the suspension of Swift, I’ve got to hope for a home win. 2-1 to us and our first three points at home since mid-August would be lovely!