Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Championship Credentials

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I had planned on Saturday evening to watch Arsenal with some optimism as I was quietly confident that they would continue their recent good form with a revenge victory over Hull City on Setanta TV.

Instead the opportunity arose for me at the last moment to take a ticket for the simultaneous fixture being played out on Sky TV, with Bristol City hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Championship.



Whilst naturally maintaining vigil on the score at the Emirates via mobile phone, I found myself not regretting the decision to make the effort to watch the game despite the conditions becoming increasingly worse until the teams were playing amidst torrential rain and gale force winds.

In fact it made a nice change to report on a league below the Premiership, where most of the media attention is usually focused, and I saw it as a good chance to weigh-up the promotion prospects of table-topping Wolves.

It transpired that the last time I had visited Ashton Gate was in the corresponding fixture between the two clubs near the end of last season. On that occasion the result had been a cautious and uneventful 0-0. I hoped for more entertainment this time around and I was encouraged by the atmosphere amongst the home season-ticket holders which was loud, vocal and bolstered by some mystery man on a tannoy with a thick regional accent! He prompted the fans to sing their favourite songs and the Wedlock stand (or east end as they proudly sang) home support responded as we stayed standing throughout, only using the seats to get a view from above the crowd.

Being situated in the season ticket holder’s end provided the best atmosphere out of all the occasions I have watched a game at Ashton Gate, and I assume it is because they are the fans who are always there. It still surprised me and made me wonder about the atmosphere that is sometimes criticised in the Premiership for being too muted. As has been suggested before, maybe the return of terraces in a small capacity would help to reintroduce some of the passion in the stands. A topic for another time perhaps.

As for the game itself, the first half was a close reflection of last season's encounter. Chances for both teams were meagre, but the quality was relatively assured and Wolves showed glimpses of the form that has guided them to first place.


Their counter-attacking was a particular danger and there were several occasions when Andrew Keogh threatened to stretch Bristol City with his pace and good first-touch. Despite these occasional encroachments the game was evenly poised when half-time approached, but then in the 45th minute Wolves won a corner which led to a bizarre goal. The initial cross was cleared but when the return effort came into Bristol City's six yard area, the wind appeared to take hold of the ball and instead of Adriano Basso comfortably claiming it he was left stranded as it floated over his head. The ball dropped towards the goal line and Wolves defender Neil Collins had the easy task of poking the ball into the unguarded net. There was still time for Bristol City to immediately almost equalise through Nicky Maynard before the whistle blew for half time and a 1-0 lead to Wolves.

The half-time break was, in hindsight, the warning of the impending storm that would gather pace during the second half. A competition was held for supporters and their aim was to win a prize by scoring from the centre spot into a small goal by the manager's dugouts. With the wind picking up the wayward attempts made finding a winner highly unlikely, although bizarrely the distance to goal was then widened! Meanwhile City boss Gary Johnson made a more astute change at half-time as he substituted Peter Styvar for Dele Adebola, a move that was eventually to prove a masterstroke.

The initial exchanges in the second half saw both teams emerge with more purpose, but the wind was picking up and becoming an increasing hazard for both goalkeepers as they saw goal kicks curve out for throw-ins and travel into a head-wind. Consequently Basso, maybe trying to counteract the gale conditions, was somewhat at fault for Wolves' second goal in the 54th minute. He took a low goal clearance which was intercepted by Michael Kightly who placed a perfect pass through for Matthew Jarvis to slot past Basso for 2-0, all of which happened in a blink of an eye and demonstrated the slick passing style Wolves have been praised for this season.

At this point in the proceedings things did not look good for City, they had more or less been level pegging with Wolves only to find themselves two goals down, and yet the home support realising this did not waiver.

The next few minutes were to be crucial as Basso redeemed himself by denying Ebanks-Blake, and then in the 58th minute Maynard played in Adebola down the left-hand side. As he cut into the penalty area there was a fear that he had got in too close to goal, but as Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey closed in Adebola produced a calm and strong low finish inside the post and reduced the deficit to 2-1.

From this point on the conditions became more and more like a monsoon whipping around inside Ashton Gate, and yet Bristol City became energised and lay siege to the Wolves goal with some slick attacking football of their own.

Over the course of the next twenty-five minutes the game was at its most one-sided, Bradley Orr (fresh from signing a new contract) and Adebola both came close with opportunities to equalise. Then in the 72nd minute Wolves somehow managed to survive a frenetic assault on their goal. Neil Collins got his body in the way of scrambled efforts by Adebola and then Liam Fontaine as the home support increasingly held their heads in their hands and gasped. Over the course of the next ten minutes Nicky Maynard came close twice more as City continued to throw themselves forward in spite of the worsening weather. Yet there was a brief moment in the 80th minute when it seemed that all of City's hard work would come to nothing. Wolves countered and had the ball in the net before David Jones' effort was disallowed for handball.

In the final ten minutes the game became a last chance saloon as both teams pressed for the decisive goal. Then in the 87th minute Adebola broke through on the left-hand side of Wolves' goal once again, and just as with his goal it seemed that he may of taken the ball too far. As his presence drew Hennessey out of position though, Adebola passed the ball across the goal face and Nicky Maynard found the touch to steady himself and finally equalise for 2-2, cue pandemonium in the home support!

The final minutes saw half-chances for City to complete a memorable win, but when the final whistle went there could not be too much to complain about with the final scoreline 2-2. Wolves would be disappointed to have blown a two goal lead, as the home support gleefully reminded them, but they showed glimpses of why they have been so much more effective under Mick McCarthy this season.

As for their potential prospects back in the Premiership, it would seem that there are definite foundations for them to survive and perform much better than when McCarthy was last a Premiership manager with Sunderland. The final word has to be for Bristol City, though. They produced a stirring fightback and offered hope that if they continue their recent upturn in form, they may yet mark a return for the play-offs this year. It should certainly be sooner rather than later until I return to Ashton Gate, and if such difficult weather contributes to the entertainment and atmosphere I would take that too!

Results: Watford 0-2 Sheff Utd, Swansea 2-0 Reading, Southampton 1-2 Doncaster, Sheff Wed 4-1 Charlton, Preston 2-1Burnley, Nottm Forest 2-0 Plymouth, Norwich 4-0 Barnsley, Derby 0-2 QPR, Crystal Palace 1-4 Ipswich, Coventry 2-1 Blackpool, Bristol City 2-2 Wolverhampton, Birmingham 1-1 Cardiff


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