Outclassed, outfought, out thought and even luckier on the day. Little to nothing went Bristol City’s way on Saturday and for Robins supporters it was yet another one of those dreadful home matchdays that have far too often punctuated the last 266 days of this calendar year.
Of course when you’re playing the team that sit top of the table – and there was consensus in the press box all round that Bournemouth are highly likely to finish in the top two this season – you need the breaks to go your way.
That plainly didn’t happen as Bristol City went down 0-2 at Ashton Gate, and spiralled to a 16th league home game without a win.
First Joe Williams went down with an injury most likely hamstring related, and after trying to run it off (which is likely a good sign and shows that it may not be the hamstring afterall) the midfielder trudged off down the tunnel distraught and leading to immediate changes being made.
Then to make the change at the break to counter Bournemouth’s midfield advantage only to lose Andy King and play the final 20 minutes with 10 men was unfortunate, although City had shown dire need of changes before then to try and stem the tide of Cherries attacks coming their way.
A barrage after the break saw chance after chance come for the visitors but Dan Bentley, Tomas Kalas, Nathan Baker and others helped repel the visitors, who could have added to the scoreline considerably if Dominic Solanke could have hit the ball more cleanly as he got nine shots off in the game, or Jack Stacey converted when set up by the impressive Ryan Christie after the break, or Christie himself after an hour.
With Bristolian Lloyd Kelly imperious at the back and pinging pinpoint passes from the left flank to the right, Scott Parker’s side dominated proceedings and didn’t need further help with the way that referee Gavin Ward allowed for the occasional pilfering of the ball in midfield that another referee may have penalised, nor the injuries and resulting disorganisation arising for City.
But Bournemouth showed their class, as much as the Ashton Gate crowd did, joining in to wish David Brooks all the best in the seventh minute with the South Stand even generously applauding both opposition goals.
Former Swansea City man Jamal Lowe made his first start and looked the kind of class Championship act that Premier League parachute payments can buy, and the men from the south coast “were the best side we’ve played by some way this season”, explained Pearson after the game.
Perhaps this weekend shows the level that City need to aspire to and they are still some way, depressingly, short.
The Cherries overtake City for away points won this season and the Robins now move on to Nottingham Forest, as they look to avoid expanding this club record run of home league games without a win even further. Perhaps Pearson will finally see the three points when he faces his home city, though it may not be the best time to face Steve Cooper’s in-form Forest, now on a run of four wins in their last five games with victory against Blackpool on the weekend.
Nige gets it wrong
We haven’t criticised the manager much since his arrival and by and large we can see what the 58-year-old is looking to do with Bristol City (and the team are evidently fitter and suffering fewer injuries) but Pearson clearly got a few things wrong on Saturday. Bournemouth dominated the ball and territory for much of the first half, aided by outnumbering City 3-2 in the middle of midfield.
BBC Radio Bristol’s analysts picked up the tactical conundrum throughout, and the Robins struggled to contain the excellent Christie, Kilkenny and Billing. Mind, will many this season?
And that was despite perennial midfield pest Ben Pearson starting a match ban for five yellow cards and Jefferson Lerma not featuring following international duy with Colombia.
The Robins couldn’t keep up with the three in the middle regardless, despite the improved fitness this year, and the more dynamic visitors eventually made that domination pay. The full-backs in particular had testing afternoons.
City tried to regroup and reorganise at the break, switching to a 3-4-1-2 as Jay Dasilva came on for Callum O’Dowda but it was too late in the game and only seemed to fire up
“I just felt we had to change things,” said Pearson on the half-time alteration, with a third substitution made soon after as Tyreeq Bakinson replaced Cam Pring and allowed Dasilva to drop into the back three and Weimann to slide out to wide left.
But those early changes meant that when Andy King went off injured on 74 minutes, all three subs had been made and the Robins could not react. And why was the lively O’Dowda withdrawn anyway as the Irishman was one of the few causing Scott Parker’s side problems, getting behind Stacey and exposing the veteran Gary Cahill?
A failure to engage with the opposition at other times and countless duels lost across the pitch only exacerbated the situation further, as fans reflected afterwards on City failing to turn up for this one.
Bristol City’s problems largely stem from a failure in front of goal at Ashton Gate. Only Swansea have scored fewer at home this season, though that could change on Sunday as Cardiff visit the Liberty, while only relegated Wycombe scored fewer than City on their own patch in 2020/21.
More belief and quality play is needed, for the Robins to take flight in any sustained way and set their home ground alight.
Chances made still
But it wasn’t all gloom. The Robins still carved out some good goal-scoring opportunities themselves and Nahki Wells might have done better when reaching a first-half O’Dowda cross before being agonisingly close to reaching George Tanner’s header across the goal late in the game.
Likewise Jay Dasilva drilled at Mark Travers’ net from another Tanner break in the second period and with the right accuracy or deflection then the ball may have gone in, while Chris Martin headed a late Wells cross tamely at Travers when City’s best opportunity to score arose.
With Bournemouth also profligate, all the main action occurred in the first 45 minutes and in actuality it was a cruise for Parker and co thereafter, akin to a barge bobbing down the River Bourne.
So City look to recover quickly, go again and to avoid this wretched run in BS3 lasting any longer, where fans have yet to see a win at the ground from the stands since a 3-2 victory over Phillip Cocu’s Derby County 18 months ago.
Chris Martin netted that day, for the Rams of course, and Nahki Wells poached a first goal for City after his move from QPR. But there has been scant to cheer about – in person – in this particular part of the South West since.