It’s not easy being a makeshift wing-back. Just ask Alex Scott.
You get moved from your usual central playmaking role, it’s physically and mentally draining as you are asked to constantly get up and down the flank, contributing as much in attack as you do in defence, battle speedy wingers, keep an eye on overlaps with little time to catch breath or thought.
And for your troubles you get lumbered with a rather unfortunate nickname, at least in the context of what you’d probably rather be doing on the field, given the chance.
Having played the position for four straight Championship matches following George Tanner’s hamstring injury and Zak Vyner being moved to centre-back, each game performing to the best of his relatively raw ability, given he only turned 18 in August, Scott has attracted a new moniker in the Bristol City dressing room – “Gary Neville”.
The Manchester United and England great enjoyed a storied and hugely successful career for his club, was capped 85 times, playing in five major tournaments and named the best English right-back of his generation by Sir Alex Ferguson, but his goal record was a rather modest one every 86 matches.
For all his excellence, he was never the most glamorous of players to appeal to the FIFA generation – especially not a impressionable midfielder who’s cited Jack Grealish and Mason Mount as his biggest inspirations.
He may have only been seven when Neville announced his retirement in 2011, but Scott was fully aware of the implications of such a term of endearment, as his teammates have revelled in it.
However, Scott has hopefully shaken off the tag forever following his brilliant strike against Derby County on Saturday – with Neville’s former teammate Wayne Rooney as manager – earning a more modern comparison, relevant to his age.
“He’s been compared to Gary Neville in the past couple of weeks because he’s not scored enough but he’s Reece James this afternoon,” captain Dan Bentley grinned when asked to discuss City’s match-winner.
“The changing room collectively gave him a few Gary Neville shouts as a right-back. G-Nev never used to score many.
“He’s done well and when the ball fell to him (at the) back stick he’s got the technique to do what he did tonight. By his own admission he was only surprised that it didn’t end up in row Z.”
That last line is doing Scott a little bit of a playful disservice given the way he struck the 16th-minute shot as it squirmed out to him along the 18-yard line after Andi Weimann was partially tackled.
With little thought, Scott had his head down and wrapped his left foot around the ball, generating enough away-swing and power to take it away from Ryan Allsop.
It was a bold finish from the England Under-19 international who, very quickly, has become part of the furniture in the City squad after impressing Nigel Pearson in pre-season.
“He’s like any young lad, quiet and reserved but he gives as good as he gets,” Bentley added. “Certainly not timid and shy. He’s respectful of his position in terms of his age and his lack of experience but we all respect him as an individual as we do with anybody else.
“You can see he’s holding his own and he’s got a personality and that’s why he’s playing every week.
“I think I’ve said it before but if you’re good enough you’re old enough and when you’re given an opportunity, you’re not a young lad anymore and you have to take responsibility with the way you play and take ownership of the way you play and that’s what’s keeping him in the team.”
Scott’s goal extended City’s unbeaten run at home to four matches and the dynamic and narrative around their performances at Ashton Gate is changing following their regrettable 17-match winless record in BS3 from January to late October.
Wins over Barnsley, Stoke City and Derby plus a 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers – two of those sides being in the top six – has restored confidence and faith in this team on home soil, something that had all-but completely disappeared throughout 2021.
Bentley accepts that building and enhancing of their home form is vital to moving up the table, with City having developed a useful but also slightly bizarre reputation of being fundamentally a strong away side in recent seasons.
As evidence of the Robins growing assuredness at home, Bentley’s goal and even area was largely untroubled despite a slender one-goal advantage and a second-half in which Derby dominated the ball, akin to previous meltdowns in South Bristol.
But this time the nerves weren’t evident nor was the mental block in the final 10 minutes to see the contest out.
“We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves for sure, and we could have made it slightly easier for ourselves but we appreciate that the fans are probably quite nervous going into the last knockings of games because of the history that we’ve created this season,” Bentley added, having conceded late goals at Ashton Gate to Blackpool, Luton Town and Nottingham Forest.
“In the last two games you can see, I’ve felt pretty comfortable, apart from the (Ravel) Morrison volley at the end, which was a half chance from what was initially good defending, they’ve not really created anything. A couple of flashes across goal, we were always pretty comfortable.
“We can’t just be relying on away wins every week and not being good enough at home, we want this place to be a difficult place for other people to come.
“It can’t just be that people turn up here and we roll over. I mean that not deliberately, you can see in the record that we were giving everything, but for whatever reason it didn’t fall our way, it didn’t click, we didn’t have the rub of the green, we made mistakes but like I say, that’s put to bed now and certainly onwards and upwards in terms of home form.”