Bristol City 2019-20 Season So Far

Bristol City are set to return to football on 20th June – so Gabriel Sutton spoke to supporters to get their take on how 2019-20 has gone so far. Ian Hamblin (@iansabbath), Ian Gay (@RealBristolBoy), Dave Featherstone (@Davefevs) and Mike Jones (@BCFCOLIVERDOG) all offer their views.

Historically, Bristol City have been a club that have floated between the second and third tiers of English football. Now, though, with Steve Lansdown’s running of the club and a much improved stadium, would you say the structural foundations are in place to bring top flight football to Ashton Gate for the first time since 1980?

Ian H: Absolutely, although the phrase ‘Premier League club in waiting’ can be over used, there’s no doubt that the infrastructure is now there to support and sustain a promotion push. It may be though, with other clubs similarly investing, that we have only been provided with the opportunity to, at least, stay in touch with the promotion chasing contenders each season … although the new tranche of parachute payments every year could put a question mark over even that. Certainly nothing is guaranteed, but we are in a strong position, not only because of Steve Lansdown’s money, but because of him being a local supporter, who has demonstrated longevity and loyalty over the years.

Ian G: Simple answer is, Yes.

We have a manageable debt of circa £72m which includes a £50m Mortgage on our rebuilt stadium. This is paid by Bristol City & Bristol Bears Premier Rugby. The “away” end holds around 4k fans & will probably be rebuilt if we reach the Prem. A brand new training ground is under development & will be completed this year.

The club made a profit of around £10m last time out however that was largely down to transfer revenue with the likes of Lloyd Kelly (Bmth) & Adam Webster (BHA) leaving & it would seem that the only way that the club can pay off its debt & become financially sustainable is in achieving promotion unless it continues to sell its best players which, in itself, doesn’t seem sustainable.

“Little Bristol City” have the fourth most expensive squad in the EFL at £76.95m & Lee’s brought in fifty players spending circa £68m with a profit circa £7.6m since he’s been here after the recent sale of Josh Brownhill to Burnley.

Dave: Absolutely! 26,500 capacity, modern re-build of Ashton Gate, multi-million training ground development and maximising revenue streams, some increasing 10-fold. If Bournemouth (no disrespect) can do it we can. As you say, we have been a club floating between Championship and League One (in current format), but have now established our self into a top-half Championship club whilst competing against the riches borne out of parachute payments from relegated Premier League teams. We are in a good position to continue this progress, perhaps more so in a Covid uncertain world. We have sold our assets for good money, we won’t see fees of that size being paid for Championship players going forward.

Mikey: without a doubt they are with the new training ground on the way and the academy producing some excellent talent I believe the club has never been in better shape with a state of the art home ground and backroom staff in place to progress to the highest level in English footy.

James: Yeah of course – with a new training ground also on the way it’s fairly obvious that everything is Premier League ready. In my opinion, promotion would be huge for the city as a whole. City‘s catchment area is massive and the number of youngsters who you’d see support City, instead of Man U, Chelsea or Liverpool, if they were a PL side would change this club and the city forever. So, we just need a team now that can get us there.

My outsider’s perception would be that City fans are split down the middle on Lee Johnson. Firstly, what is your opinion on the work he has done as manager? Secondly, do you think the groups who are pro- and anti-Johnson generally had the same feelings towards him during his playing days?

Ian H: I think both your perception and inclination are correct. Fans are split, it may appear 50/50 on forums and social media, my sense is it is more 80/20 in term of actual fans in the city and at the ground … in support of the manager. Whenever we go on a bad run, there are many who are more than ready to criticise sooner rather than later and are conspicuously quiet in more prosperous times. I agree this division can, more often than not, be traced back to Lee’s playing days, perceived nepotism, when he played under his father, still grating with a vocal minority. For myself, I’m a firm supporter, he appears to me to be an intelligent, hard working and talented coach who has done well given the circumstances of the club, its buying/selling policy and general status within the division. I’ve had occasional criticisms but I’m certain we could do a lot worse.

Ian G: Before Lee arrived I would say it was roughly 60/40 against. As a player, he wasn’t widely popular IMHO albeit it was difficult when his Father was manager & that has dogged him throughout his career with the vast majority of his games under his Father at Yeovil & City. As a player I always thought he could have done far better from an attacking perspective with the talent he had. As a manager, I respect him as a hard worker & he’s had far, far greater financial support than any other manager.

If he makes the play offs this year, my view is that he should keep his job. If he doesn’t it could be a close call albeit smart money would be on him staying here with Steve Lansdown very much in his corner.

Dave: Generally, I think he has done a good job. Season-on-season progression in terms of league position in the Championship, and even if it finished now, we would be 7th (8th last season).  There is always the nagging question – could / should he have done better with the resources made available to him, or if he’d kept a more settled team / formation / style.  But I then defend that with, what if he’d not had to sell Flint, Reid, Bryan, Webster, Brownhill, even Kelly. But that always loops around to – so does every other manager in this league.  Overall, I am definitely positive about his tenure, but I wouldn’t be a football fan if I wasn’t a bit fickle!

As for fans’ perceptions of him, that’s not one I can really answer. I had a young family in his playing days and I only saw him play live once, for 45 minutes when Darius Henderson (Watford) crocked him in the 2007-08 promotion run in under his father. I think there is bias though, partly his way of playing and the usual nepotism view that comes from being the manager’s son. I’ll judge him as our Head-Coach.

Mikey: Be careful what you wish for with Lee Johnson doubters is my message . The club require a certain type of manager to fit their model and in fairness to LJ he’s doing a decent job having had to sell his premium players on several occasions . I believe its a generation thing on LJs as most of the older fans that have seen city through the tough times are more realistic on the journey to the premier league dream . Johnson always has a tough job to win over the fans as his dad was in charge when he was a player and that is very dependant on his famous exploits as streaky Lee as a manager – Personally its a yes from me.

James: Personally a bit too young to remember his playing days! But as a manager, I am pro-Johnson and have been pretty much for the entirety (bar during the 16/17 spell and after the 5-0 PNE loss!) 5 years running of progress and whilst we haven’t made that big jump to the playoffs yet, I think we are so close to it. There have been many frustrations in the last couple of years – and they are very understandable – but I think LJ has shown more than enough to use the players we have now to bounce back and reach Top 6 ability. With our post-lockdown squad however, there is now huge pressure on him because we now have an elite Championship-level attacking depth, that is more than top 6-worthy.

You’ve used seven different formations in 2019-20. Do you admire Johnson’s tendency to keep opponents guessing? Alternatively, do you think the lack of tactical consistency keeps your own players guessing?

Ian H: I do admire his tactical thinking, although I do worry at times he might over-think, perhaps even over-coach, and lose the cutting instincts of some of his most naturally gifted players. The lack of tactical consistency is not so much my issue, more the apparent lack of an overall playing identity, although this has been much vaunted. For a few years it was clear, fast moving, high pressing, technically gifted and possession based. This season it seems to have become more counter attacking based, although I’m not certain that’s been by design. Having said that, we’ve more than held our own, not least because of the coach’s ability to enable his players to adapt.

Ian G: In business, I’ve found young managers feel that they must have all the answers & tend to overthink things. I think Lee falls into this category & that has led to the “streaky” comments that he’s aware of. We are very much a club that could win 6-7 on the trot then lose 4-5 in what is a tough, competitive division. Lee’s spent a ton of money & has had real quality loans in players like Abraham & Afobe. We very much should be in the play offs.

Dave: It is probably one of my biggest bugbears.  We do need tactical flexibility, you have to accept that sometimes you have to go horses-for-courses, my frustration however is the building of a squad to cover each system.  This results in running an oversized squad, and certain players who can play with some but not others, or certain players who can play one system but not another, and ultimately several players not even getting kitted up each game.  This impacts player selection game to game, with sometimes a player left out when they’ve been performing, purely because of a system change.  It means player partnerships haven’t organically built like you’d expect by this point of the season.  It is interesting, that upon return to training this week, Johnson has put focus into partnerships in the way he’s constructed his Covid enforced small numbered training groups.  So here’s hoping!

Mikey: Sometimes LJ is a genius with formations and team selections however too often in the games that we have to win we fall short continuously against experienced opposition managers . He is improving ( I.e. our win against Neil Warnock this season ) but sometimes I think he over thinks formations and team selections.

James: Sadly I don’t think the many formations used is keeping opponents guessing half the time – LJ’s adaptability has drastically improved over the last two seasons, but I think it’s gone slightly overboard this season on occasions. We’ve been unlucky here and there, especially with injuries, but some of the formations and personnel chosen sometimes just leave you baffled.

Daniel Bentley joined last summer after a tough final season at Brentford. Has he deserved 35 out of a possible 37 league starts over Niki Maenpaa?

Ian H: He has, he began confidently and, for the first half of the season hardly put a foot wrong, becoming a strong contender, even at that stage, for ‘player of the season’.  Not only because of his keeping, but his general character and demeanour.  He seemed to quickly become one of the leaders of the group.    After Christmas, he wasn’t quite so good, made a few mistakes and got injured.  Maenpaa came in and looked assured too, no one worries when he plays and, it could be argued, as the man in possession, he deserves to play more. I believe Bentley’s fit again now though and is likely to be first choice whenever we return.

Ian G: Both are quality keepers. Bentley, on form, is better particularly ball at feet. As a club we are blessed with at least three fine keepers as we also have Max O’Leary who’s on a SLL at Shrewsbury. Bentley was a snip at £2m

Dave: Maenpaa had injuries pre-season so I don’t think it ever really manifested as a selection issue at the start of the season.  Gilmartin or Wollacott sat on the bench in the early weeks before Niki patiently waited for a chance.  Bentley has undoubtedly had a good season and is top or near top of the list of many fan’s player of the season so far.  Just before the break he had a bit of a wobble, plus an injury, and had been replaced by Niki Maenpaa.  I don’t think there is much between them.  Bentley’s distribution superior until recently, but Maenpaa is the epitome of solid and being a ‘big-un’ commands his box, his tendency to catch rather than punch. I think he brings a bit more calm to a defensive unit that seen many changes due to system and injuries.  But we are well-off in the goalkeeping department, with O’Leary on loan at Shrewsbury who proved last season he is Championship capable.  I don’t think many fans would dispute Dan Bentley holding the green (or pink) jersey for much of this season.

Mike: Yes he has and possibly saved us from loosing 10-15 points already . His mistakes that Brentford fans suggested he would make have crept in but overall he’s been a good signing but Niki is hot on his tail for the first team spot

James: I absolutely love Maenpaa and thought he was outstanding last season. Bentley has come in and been even more outstanding which is just amazing. His tendency for mistakes does leave you slightly on edge sometimes, but I think it’s purely age and longevity keeping him in over Maenpaa. With O’Leary too, we must have the best keeper depth in the whole of the EFL!

Jack Hunt, I’d suggest, has often relied on his attacking drive at this level as his main selling point. Does he still have that at 29? Should he remain first choice? Or would you want to bring in another technical right-back/wing-back like loanee Pedro Pereira?

Ian H: Jack Hunt has been an effective performer for us, without being outstanding.  He is definitely more adept as going forward than defending and his crossing has been a real plus point.  A few assists and a goal or two, always helps.  Defensively he’s been less impressive, while not being a liability.   Pereira, when he’s played, has fitted in well, without being exceptional.  He’s young and may well have the capacity to improve, both in his performances and sell-on value, although I’m not convinced that he’s worth the sort of prices that are being quoted, in order to make his move permanent.  Right back is a position we need to tie down though, it’s been something of a weak spot for a number of years.

Ian G: Once again, both are decent players. Hunt’s problem is that he lacks height albeit he’s better that PP going forward. PP’s bigger & stronger with not much to choose between either on pace. On the basis that any club needs two players per position, I’m happy with either/both.

Dave: Right Back has been a funny position for us since returning to the Championship in 2015-16.  I’ve always liked Hunt, and thought he was the answer when he was signed in the summer of 2018.  I think he has been decent enough but inconsistent though – but some of that takes me back to an earlier point about team selection and system.  It can’t help having a different player in front of you every week can it?  For the stick he gets Marley Watkins brought out the best in Hunt, someone hardworking, physical in front of him. Eliasson lacks the defensive intelligence to help Hunt, and when Weimann plays wide right, his instincts aren’t defensive either.  I do like the look of Pereira.  Appears to have a good all-round game but perhaps his attacking skills have yet to come to come to the fore.  We do have an option to buy Pereira but the rumoured £5m seems too high in the current landscape in my opinion.

Mike: Pereira is a bit expensive so I would look elsewhere if I’m honest – Jack Hunt is inconsistent and my 18 year son thinks he’s a liability at the back making mistakes too often . Personally I would be looking to recruit in that position and make hunt step up to the mark.

James: Hunt, as my good friend describes him, is either the best or worst player on the pitch – there’s no inbetween whatsoever! He had an excellent spell at the start of this season (including chucking a Brentford player into the stands!) but he’s tailed off so horribly. You simply cannot trust him at RB anymore, but he can bring so much as wing-back that he’s a great option for LJ’s favoured 352.

Tomas Kalas seemed to start last season well but after he came back in mid-December, you conceded 15 in the nine games he started. Do you think the interlude will help him work on his fitness and eradicate any issues his injuries might have caused him?

Ian H: Kalas certainly hasn’t been the player this season that he was last. That may be his injury, the lack of a consistent partner (let alone one as accomplished as Adam Webster) or the lack of that slight edge having now secured a permanent deal.  If the former, then he certainly should be abe to kick on for the remainder of the season, he certainly has all the attributes and would be my first name on the team sheet in terms of centre-half.

Ian G: I have to say he was better last season however, he was next to Adam Webster! I was niggled when he went away on Int duty (Ala Adam Nagy) when injured & didn’t keep up on a training & treatment programme devised by City. Since then I would say he’s steadily improved whilst not being back to his previous best quite yet. Hopefully, the enforced break will benefit him & some others that were injured such as Zak Vyner & Benik Afobe who’s fitness will also give a massive boost to Kasey Palmer who hasn’t looked the same player with Benik out.

Our forward line up is the best I’ve seen in years with Diedhiou, Weimann, Wells & Afobe plus Elliason, Paterson, O’Dowda & Palmer to supply the ammunition.

Dave: There is no doubt in my mind that Tomas Kalas is a classy Centre-Back.  He proved that last season with Webster alongside him, and not just because Webster was alongside him.  The injury away at Hull in August was a huge loss (although opened the door for Ashley Williams to sign and he has been good), and then a rushed return, playing through injury haven’t helped either. 4 of those goals were versus Brentford where we spent 77 minutes with 10 men. Just before the break he looked fully fit, and perhaps not as bulky as he had previously. Like a few of our players I’m really hoping the break has been of benefit. We also had Jay Dasilva out, so a totally different defensive unit from last season.

Mike: Love Kalas and recently before the coronavirus break he was getting back to his best and replicating his loan period last season – So yes I do

James: Definitely – the last game before lockdown (Fulham) was undoubtedly his best performance of the season – he had Mitro in his pocket for the whole 90 minutes, and was at his sweeping best. We need a 100% fit Kalas because there’s not many better in the league when he’s in form.

Nathan Baker looks a reasonably established Championship centre-back and Ashley Williams brings a wealth of international experience too. Does that pairing, though, leave you short on pace? Hoping to see more of Taylor Moore next season?

Ian H: Baker is something of an enigma, a colossus on his day but, for such a physical player, he seems extraordinarily fragile.  The number of times he has had to go off in the first half of games is bizarre.  If he could stay fit he is still a definite asset and would be vying for a regular starting spot for sure. Williams did really well for us when he came in, as we were really stretched for cover.  He played more than probably even he expected and, up until the most recent games did well. Whether he has a longer term future at the club I imagine depends on if they can find him some accompanying coaching responsibilities.  I wouldn’t want to see him blocking the pathway of either Taylor Moore or Zak Vyner. Taylor Moore is quality, many were sad to see him loaned out, but I could see the benefit of his getting games. He has mistakes in him, but ultimately, could become the inheritor of Webster’s mantle of defensive playmaker, something the team really needs if it’s to find it’s intended identity again.

Ian G: None of the above would be classed as quick in the sense of say, Keith Curle or Des Walker, however they are all quick enough & don’t forget Filip Benkovic a £13m CB we have on SLL from Leicester. Taylor Moore, I’m sure will be a decent player but if we only pay two CB’s you can’t have good players sat in the stands. I don’t think Lee Johnson feels that Taylor Moore is tough or consistent enough at the moment albeit he’s probably the best at bringing the ball out from the back.

Dave: You’re right, it’s not the quickest pairing, but for them it is about positioning, sensing danger and full on commitment to defend the goal.  Pretty good Centre Back attributes.  It has meant we’ve set up a bit deeper, but where we’ve not helped ourselves is by not shifting our other units (midfield and attack) accordingly.  We are a bit more ‘strung-out’ and our units cannot work together.  This has made it difficult to protect in front on them, but also not helped us play out from the back.  Baker is much maligned for his injury record, but when fit and got his ‘head-on’ is right up there in the list of Championship Centre Backs.

As for Taylor Moore, he’s made me yo-yo my opinion several times since he arrived from RC Lens. He’s on an upward trend at the mo’, and all he could do this season was position himself as being good enough to play at this level for City.  He’s done that in spades, and just turned 23, is only gonna get better.  He has a great attitude and desire and I was disappointed to see him go out on loan to Blackpool in January.  More (no pun) to come from him, and a future captain of City.

Mike: we have conceded too many goals full stop . Taylor Moore  isn’t ready for the championship quite yet imho – Kalas and Baker at back with JDS and one other would be fine by my reckoning.

James: Centre-backs are again an area that we are just stacked in! Williams has been a brilliant player this season but that should be it for his time here. Benkovic is our current more pacier option and we know what he’s capable of, he just needs the time to produce it! As for Baker, in my opinion he’s the best out and out defender in the league – maybe he lacks a little pace, but on form he doesn’t need any because his positioning is perfect, tackling sublime and he is just ruthless. A fit Baker also offers that experience you mentioned, and our record with him in the XI is so much better than without! I am probably the biggest Taylor Moore fan you’ll find at Ashton Gate too – i can see why we loaned him but it could’ve been planned better so that he was playing at a higher level than L1 but hey ho. He should be starting for us in my view (obviously LJ has his reasons) but just needs pure trust put into him and I have no doubt he will repay it. He offers that pace we lack, his dribbling and passing is quite clearly coming on very quickly too – he even asked LJ for the armband for the Shrewsbury game, a sign of a true leader.

Jay Da Silva had a reputation at Charlton for being very adventurous and therefore impressive going forward, but a bit of a defensive liability. Have you seen any signs of Da Silva maturing in certain aspects of his game?

Ian H: I’m a big fan of Da Silva, I believe we suffered more than we knew with his absence at the start of the season.  Not only because of the loss of his individual performances, especially his ability to carry the ball, but in the way it affected the overall shape of the team, with Tommy Rowe, stepping in to do a great job defensively, but reducing our penetrative qualities considerably.    Obviously, Da Silva’s stature is always going to make him defensively vulnerable in certain circumstances, but overall, he’s defended well. Over all, one of our best players.

Ian G: He was injured in our first game of the season (Broken Ankle) He needs to improve his final ball but his defensive game is good & for a small lad he’s competitive in the air. Possibly a better wing back than full back.

Dave: I’ve never had a problem with his defensive abilities, think too many fans see his height and look for issues that aren’t there. He has best first touch I’ve seen from a defender in my 40 years of watching City.  His ability to receive the ball, open up his body to springboard an attack is a big asset (see Barnsley at home for Eliasson’s goal).  You can see players make angles off of him, confident they will get a pass, often first-time.  Defensively he gets into position early, uses his body aerially so that if he doesn’t win the ball, his man doesn’t get a clean header either.  Of course, there will be odd games (Wolves in FA Cup last season) where he can be exposed, but you tell me a Full-Back who doesn’t when caught by overloads on their side.  He is one of the players I most like watching at Ashton Gate.  For his attacking prowess I believe he’s better doing that from a traditional Left Back role, rather than Left Wing-Back, where hit is easy to be caught too far ahead of the ball.

Mike: Since returning from injury JDS has been impressive and I believe has matured as a player . I have never seen him as a liability either this season or on loan last season

James: Dasilva’s raw numbers show his defensive improvement this season. He might not have played such an advanced role as last season but it’s clear to see his football brain is improving every game. He’s an absolute gem of a player and I sincerely hope he stays at this club for his whole career. He’s a potential England prospect for sure – but keep it quiet, yeah?

Your drop in form coincided directly with Josh Brownhill’s late January exit to Burnley. Do you wonder what might have been had you kept Brownhill and had Adam Nagy been able to stay fit? You’d have had one of the best midfields in the division…

Ian H: I was a fan of Josh Brownhill, an accomplished and talented all round footballer, but I wouldn’t make such a direct correlation between his leaving and our drop in form.  We were pretty poor in midfield for a fair few games when he was playing there, before he left, and our inability to dominate in that area of the pitch has been an issue for a while.  Korey Smith’s prolonged absence hasn’t helped, as he provided much needed bite, and I do agree the presence of Massengo, Palmer and Nagy, not to mention the return of Walsh and Smodizcs, maybe even Bakinson, should mean that we ought to be able to find the right balance in the middle of the park, while still benefiting from the Brownhill fee.

Ian G: All of the above are true & Brownhill was also our Captain. Palmer lost form after Afobe was injured & there was even talk of him leaving albeit LJ played that down. HNM will be a very good player however both he & Nagy struggle to play three games a week & Nagy has an ongoing ankle problem that may require an end of season Op. In terms of midfield I would have recalled Liam Walsh from Coventry & Joe Morrell from Lincoln to solve any midfield issue.

Dave: We were pretty inconsistent with Brownhill in the team too!!  They don’t call the head-coach “Streaky Lee” for no reason. If there was a single reason, I’m sure Lee would have sorted it.  I think it’s partly the nature of the Championship, and the different styles each team plays.  I would say we generally struggle at home against the sides who are physical in their press (Blackburn, Millwall and Leeds).  Away from home we have as good a record as most.  Don’t get me wrong, we would be better off with Josh than without him, but with Covid-hindsight it looks terrific business to get the money we did from Burnley.

I don’t necessarily wonder what might’ve been with Brownhill, but I certainly do had Afobe not ruptured his ACL.  We were settling into a 5212, Brownhill with either Nagy and Massengo, Palmer as the creative No.10, in tune with Afobe, and Afobe and Weimann looking like a pairing to cause any defence a problem. Derby away (2-1 win) was probably as good a team performance as I’ve seen this season. Diedhiou resigned to a place on the bench with Eliasson!!!

There is talent in the midfield, but somewhat compromised by system, especially when a bog-standard 442.  The centre of the pitch is probably the area Johnson needs to focus on if we are to come out of the traps flying.

Mike: Yes I do but you cant hold a player back from the premier league . We needed a proven goal scorer and in Wells we got that. To avoid FFP sanctions josh had to be sold full stop . I think we are one short in midfield despite those you mention and with Koreys future uncertain I think we need to add experience

James: Midfield is a funny one – with Nagy constantly injured, Korey (was) out for a while and Brownhill gone it seems everyone panicked. It wasn’t ideal losing Josh but we have several more than capable options. Henriksen is a useful addition, but Korey’s form on return has been undeniably influential, Massengo is, well Massengo, and Nagy is a great player that needs the right system and a break from injury.

Callum O’Dowda always struck me as your classic, old-school winger who will get up and down the flank, take on the opposing right-back and maybe put in the odd cross. How do you feel about Johnson’s decision to move him into midfield for four games?

Ian H: I know what you mean about O’Dowda but, more often than not, he flattered to deceive as a winger, and didn’t affect games as much as he should have.  Perhaps 1 in 5 he might make a significant impact, but no more than that.  Johnson clearly likes his work rate though, as opposed to say Palmer, so gives him opportunities.  Martin O’Neil played him centrally for Ireland and so it wasn’t unreasonable to try him there, especially given our struggle to get the right midfield balance.  It’s fair to say though it’s not been a complete success and the jury is still out on his long term future at the club.  Personally, if we return to a back 3, I could see him emerge as a wing back.

Ian G: He’s a far better winger who I’d describe as a scorer of great goals as opposed to a great goal scorer. After it looked likely he’d leave, he signed a new contract but has since failed to make any kind of consistent impact. He’s a good athlete however, IMHO, he’s shouldn’t currently be played in central midfield albeit lots of wingers move inside in their later careers………….Brian Tinnion anyone.

Dave: No problem at all, some of us thought it might be a good fit.  When he has played there, it’s mainly been as part of a three in a 532, and he’s done ok, Cardiff away especially.  He hasn’t made a big enough impact in enough games though when playing wide though.  He’s on the periphery.  There is a player in there, and glimpses on the left side of a diamond might be his best role, but it’s not a formation we play unless it’s the last 20 minutes ‘kitchen-sink’ stuff.

Mike: Massive let down Odowda imho – Issues over his contract have caused his club and international first team chances severe harm – Only seen brief glimpses of his best since our visit to Carrow road last season when he ran the show . Personally he has talent but wouldn’t be in my starting 11 either in midfield or on the wings . If you push me I prefer him out wide

James: I liked him in midfield but I think he has to commit to one of the two positions now. At this point of his career, he will not grow enough flirting between a winger and CM, so him and LJ need to discuss what’s best. I think he could be a great player in either position but it needs to be decided now and he needs to get working on it ASAP.#

You’ve operated with a back-three in 17 league games this season. Are the benefits of a back-three, in your eyes, worth the downside of leaving the Championship’s best crosser of a ball in Niclas Eliasson out of the XI?

Ian H: Again, it’s all a question of balance and the sort of identity we want to pursue.  Without an out and out finisher, our best source of goals was Eliasson supplying crosses to the likes of Diedhiou from a 4-4-2.  Arguably though, with the acquisition of Wells, the best use of our best players would see him, Afobe and Palmer linking more centrally, and that would work best in a narrower shape with a 3-5-2,  Finding effective midfield cover is key for me, rather than the numbers in defence.  It’s always good to see Eliasson on the pitch for his delivery, but I understand the manager’s issue, in that, up to now, he offers little else, especially out of possession, even when compared to someone like O’Dowda.

Ian G: I think it depends on who & how we’re playing. Elliason has normally been most effective as an impact player. We certainly have the players to play any formation albeit, I think we’d struggle to go one up top against some clubs with ball retention being a problem.

Dave: In a straight closed question – Yes is my answer, there are enough positives with other players to justify a back 3 / Wing-Backs system, whether that be a 5212 (Palmer) or 532 (O’Dowda).  But it isn’t as simple as that.  His crossing is fantastic, but there needs to be more to his all-round game.  He can also be on the periphery too, not one to get involved in general play, nor one to drag his marker about to create space for others.  Earlier on when we discussed Jack Hunt, you’ll never see Nic move the left back infield to give Hunt a license to overlap into big open spaces.  Also, there is an insistence amongst fans that if Diedhiou plays, Eliasson must.  He has assisted 2 goals this season for Big Fam, Jack Hunt has assisted 3!!!

With everyone available on the return of the Championship it will be very interesting to see what team and system Lee Johnson goes with.  If Afobe is fit, us fans are very excited to see him and Nahki Wells together.

Mike: Difficult one this – Depends on the opposition with 3 at the back . Fans love Eliasson but does he do enough over 90 minutes – possibly not

James: Eliasson’s inclusion is by far the biggest dilemma at this football club. I don’t think 352 has been as effective this season as it was in 18/19. I genuinely don’t know what to do about him at this point – I don’t envy LJ one bit. All I know is that, on his day, there is no better winger in the league apart from Benrahma.

Andreas Weimann seems to be one of the most underrated players in the Championship, for me – he seems to get through a lot of selfless work. Do you prefer him up top, out wide or behind a main striker?

Ian H: Certainly under-rated, a tireless worker with extraordinary energy and commitment.  He has a decent goal scoring record with us too, when operating centrally.  Whether you’d play him there with Diedhiou, Wells and Afobe all fit though is debatable, and would you rather his energy out wide, at the expense of the aforementioned assist machine that is Eliasson?  Johnson has called him ‘undropable’ and he’s very much a coach’s favourite but I do wonder where he fits in our best team/formation.

Ian G: For me, up top in a two. LJ loves his work rate & clever runs. We often lack the player to find him albeit Afobe’s return may help that.

Mike: Up top – Just look at his hattrick against Sheffield Utd last season . Become the Boo boys target this season instead of Fam . Excellent player Weimann and works so hard game after game – must be a nightmare for defences

James: I do like Weimann but I think he gets way too much credit for the basics that any player should do. Sure, he works hard and he does have a tendency to make clever runs that drag defenders away – but I also think he does this no more than any decent Championship player? His end product has just worsened with time and he goes missing for at least half the season – he did it in 18/19 and now in 19/20. He hits purple patches for goalscoring but simply doesn’t do enough for me to warrant a consistent place in the team. To answer your question, for me it depends on his form – I prefer him as a striker but if he’s not firing on all cylinders then I’d rather let him run up and down the wing and let Fam and Nahki take the striker spots.

With forwards like Weimann and Famara Diedhiou, who of course gives you that reference point from deep, you can never question their application – but Nahki Wells is likely to be a bit greedier and perhaps more ruthless in front of goal. Are you excited to see what he can do in a City shirt?

Ian H: We certainly needed a greater goal threat and I was happy with the Wells signing.  Famara is, for me, one of the best around at what he does as a No. 9, but I’m most excited in seeing Afobe back and being able to run off the shoulders of defenders, giving a passing target for our creative midfielders to find

Ian G: (See above) Afobe, Wells & Diedhiou are different players who all know where the back of the net is. Diedhiou is the closest to a target man & probably the best in the air with Wells a more of a poacher & Afobe a threat off the shoulder & quick.

Dave: I think that is the problem, too many just see him as working hard, and miss all the other stuff he does.  In some respects, he is on a different wavelength to many of our players, who miss his clever runs.  Palmer is one who spots them, but he has been in and out of favour.  Andi has 9 goals despite rarely playing as the focal striker (often starting wide too) is a good return, yet I think he could be that 15-18 goal striker if he played more down the middle.  His partnership with Afobe showed really promise.  Both could come short; both could spin into the channel and both appreciated each other’s space and runs.  I’ve never thought Weimann and Diedhiou ever got a true understanding together, taking each other’s space.  When he signed I had visions of Diedhiou being like Benteke when they played together successfully at Aston Villa.

I certainly am.  I’ve always fancied Wells from his League Cup exploits with Bradford, and we do like a Bermudian Striker at Ashton Gate (Shaun Goater).  He’s someone who I’ve thought should be on our radar, but probably just out of our reach for 3 or 4 seasons.  We finally have him, and with Afobe, plus Weimann and Diedhiou we have a front 4 who could give us that final 9 game push.

Mike: Our front line is terrifyingly good and I cant wait too see them in action – Wells is the goal scorer we have needed and will be even better as time goes on

James: Nahki Wells is one of the best strikers in the league and he is such an exciting prospect. I couldn’t care how greedy he is as long as he scores goals, and that’s all we need. Barring Afobe, we don’t have a natural goalscorer and he is what we’ve needed for years.

It looks likely you’ll be playing Championship football next season… so how do you reflect on 2019-20 as a whole?

Ian H: To maintain a promotion challenge, and be consistent in the top 10, given, again, selling our best players, is no mean feat and is to be applauded in itself.  I like the model that the club is working on, to invest in young players and develop them, makes good sense in terms of sustainability and, this season we’ve continued to do that without faltering too badly in the table.  The style of play though has deteriorated this year, not helped by injuries to key personnel, the home form, in particular has been poor, but the potential in the squad in clearly evident.  That could be frustrating, and the manager might be judged, by some, not to be getting the best out of everyone, or just be considered par for the course, with a youngish emerging squad, which always has us wondering what’s still to come.  There will though come a time when the readiness, and the ambition referred to in your first question, will need to be realised, before those other than the usual suspects, begin to get impatient.
Ian G: I don’t accept it’s likely! In terms of the season, it will be successful IF we get in the play offs & from there, let’s face it, it’s a lottery.

Dave: I wouldn’t be sure just yet!  It looks we are going to finish the last 9 games and if we are the right ‘Streaky Lee’, we could push all the way.  It won’t be easy though!  Could well come down to Preston North End at home on the last day.

I reflect on 2019-20 (if we do miss out) as one where we have really positioned ourselves to give it right go next season.  Financially stable, a strong squad up against a number of clubs who are going to be in real trouble post-Covid.  We need to play on that and take advantage.  It’s rarely dull being a Bristol City fan!!

Mike: With Afobe back and no fans at AG where our home form has cost us this season we are still in the playoff race . If we don’t make in than im contented with progress on and off the pitch

James: The season has certainly, again, been one of transition. Losing Webster last summer was a huge spanner in the works but I think if anything, we’ve seen more individual progress than team progress this season. The likes of Eliasson and Baker have clearly improved with consistent gametime which is exciting, but for me the main positive this season has been Famara Diedhiou. Personally, I just love the bloke and always have done, and whilst he’s never going to hit 25 in a season (20 is possible but a push, 15 needs to be his target in the short term) his build up play has improved to a level that would’ve been unbelievable to any City fan 12 months ago. He can actually take a ball down now, his strength and the way he uses it is so fun to watch and suddenly he’s pulling off flicks and tricks (and bicycle kicks) every game! This season had certainly dragged out in stages, but memorable wins at Cardiff and Fulham, along with the 5-2 and 3-2 wins over Huddersfield and Derby respectively, have been stand out points in a strange season.