Bristol City are firmly in the hunt for promotion from the Championship again this season, having finished just outside the play-offs in each of the last three seasons.
We talked to the Bristol Post’s Gregor McGregor, who also appears on Robins at the Gate podcast, about the club, their current injury crisis and what he has made of new manager Dean Holden.
Canaries.co.uk: Bristol City started off the season in great form but they have slipped recently with just three wins from eight games in December. What do you put that dip in form down to?
GM: Well, chiefly, they have suffered terribly with injuries. I know Norwich City have had a few problems in that regard as well but counting them up I do think Bristol City’s is the worst injury record, currently, in the Championship. They have got around 10 or 11 players out injured at the moment. They have, however, just got Alfie Mawson back. He came back in for the FA Cup match and he had been out for about three months with a knee injury, so there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Canaries.co.uk: Are there any other players that could potentially return to the starting XI for today’s game?
GM: I am not too sure at this moment in time. There might possibly be one or two back by the Norwich City game. I don’t think Nathan Baker or Steven Sessegnon are too far away from coming back and the next one after that is possibly Liam Walsh, but he is unlikely to be fit for the Norwich game.
Canaries.co.uk: In terms of the players that Bristol have had missing, has Alfie Mawson been the key absentee or are there other players on the injury list who they have missed more?
GM: They have probably missed Alfie Mawson the most. He makes a huge difference at the back. However, part of the problem is that a lot of the injuries have all been in the same area of the pitch, central midfield. They started the season with three in the middle and two of those guys have picked up long term injuries, one of those is out for the season – Andi Weimann – and he is one of the vice captains really. Then the next two guys in line, who would have replaced them, have been injured all season and that is Liam Walsh and Joe Williams. Joe Williams was a summer signing and he hasn’t even been able to make his debut yet because he got injured on the first day of training after he joined.
Canaries.co.uk: Dean Holden replaced Lee Johnson in the summer. What have you made of his time in charge so far and what differences do you see between his and Lee Johnson’s style of play?
Canaries.co.uk: I have been quite impressed with Dean Holden so far, although I have to say not all the fans have and part of that is down to the context in which he was appointed. The club took a good six to seven weeks to appoint somebody in the summer and they ended up appointing Lee Johnson’s right-hand man when the owner had gone on national radio and said he wanted to bring someone in who would be a ‘breath of fresh air’. So, as you can imagine some of the fans were not too happy about that and as a result some of those have not really taken to Dean Holden.
However, I think, when you look at it objectively, he has done a very good job. He started the season in very good fashion, winning his first four league matches and went top at one stage. Since then, they have remained in the right area of the table. They have just slipped a little bit recently, with the bad results that were mentioned earlier, but mainly that is down to the injuries that they have had. So, given the resources he is not doing too bad of a job. On the second point, in terms of the differences to Lee Johnson. He has made it clear that he wants a settled team, where he can, so he has made fewer team changes week to week, and tactically he has done a few things differently. He did start the season in a 3-5-2, which did serve the club well, but more recently they have been playing a 4-4-2.
Canaries.co.uk: When the two sides met earlier in the season it was a very open game. What did you make of the match and what lessons do you think Bristol City will take from that game when they come to Carrow Road?
GM: I think Norwich City are the most potent side that we have seen this season. They really cut Bristol City to ribbons in the first half at Ashton Gate. Thankfully, Bristol City managed to regroup at half-time on that day and had much better second half performance and if Nahki Wells had scored that late penalty then who knows which way that result would have gone because City might have been able to get themselves back into the match. In terms of learning from that then they will definitely know that they have got to keep a much closer eye on the likes of (Teemu) Pukki and (Emi) Buendia, who probably had two of their best games of the season that day. It is one of those things that is easier said than done and Bristol City are not alone in terms of teams that they do that against. So, they have got to come up with a plan to stop those guys otherwise they will have no chance at all.
Canaries.co.uk: The January transfer window is now open, could we see any new arrivals at Ashton Gate this month?
GM: We are not expecting to see much done. The club have said that they are open to any late moves but given the wider picture regarding Covid they have actually brought in five or six players already this month because they have recalled a load of loan players. The likes of Kasey Palmer, who was at Swansea City, and two players have also returned who were out at Grimsby Town, Hakeeb Adelakun, who was on loan at Hull City and a young left-back Cam Pring, who was doing a very good job at Portsmouth and had helped them go top of League One. So that has reinforced the squad with four or five players anyway. Therefore, we are not expecting too much do be done, but who knows what will happen in the final week or so.