Ahead of Saturday's FA Cup 3rd round clash with Bristol City, we spoke with Paul who writes the City blog The Exiled Robin. He gives us his views on their season so far, the Robins' squad, Steve Cotterill, and more. You can follow Paul and his blog on twitter at @TheExiledRobin.

It's been six years since the two clubs last met, can you give us a quick run-down of City's fortunes during that time?

Wow, where to start!? Three seasons of struggles in the Championship came to a pathetic end with a squad full of individuals who had little interest in keeping the club up. Almost each, to a man, has remained in the Championship, so they were clearly capable, but we surrendered meekly.

It turned out to be a tanker heading for an iceberg and Sean O'Driscoll, having had the budget slashed by more than half and having to rebuild a squad with young, inexperienced players, was unable to turn it around, the downward momentum taking us to the bottom of League One. In November 2013, the board had enough and dispensed - harshly according to more than a few, given the restrictions he was working under - with his services. 

Steve Cotterill was brought in, underwhelming many, but found a few loan signings to steer us clear of a second successive drop and eventually embarked on a run of form to see us finish in the top half of the table. What happened after that was the stuff of fairytales!

Cotterill made seven signings in the summer, all of whom fitted in perfectly to the formation and style he wanted to play and each played the majority of games in a season none of us will ever forget. We won away at the pre-season favourites Sheffield United on the opening day - somewhere we hadn't won in 60 years - and never looked back.

A league title and JPT trophy double, 99 points, sealing promotion with a 6-0 win at Bradford and leaving League One by dismantling Walsall on the final day, an amazing 8-2 victory of which the highlight - typifying our remarkable season - was a hat-trick from our giant centre-half Aden Flint, including a half-volleyed rabona, to take him to 15 goals for the season.

Life had never been so good.

After such a successful 2014/15 season, has it come as a surprise to see the club struggling this campaign?

Yes, to the extent we have won so few games and are in the bottom three. Saying that, I think most understood we would be delighted to be secured safely in mid-table. But just as last season was a Mary Poppins season "practically perfect in every way" - this one has been little short of disastrous. 

Having signed so astutely and effectively the previous summer, something went terribly wrong this year and we ended up shorn of many squad players and with only one addition, striker Jonathan Kodjia. Six loan signings have enabled us to fill the bench, but only two have played regularly - the rest have barely been seen despite our poor form and results.

Few of last year's stars have matched performances as yet, and as a team we're struggling to find any sort of confidence or momentum.

Following on from that, are you still happy with Steve Cotterill?

There's a big question! I had a number of doubts on his appointment, but he gave us such a magical season it was easy to overlook any faults, as we almost all did. I wrote a blog post last year to admit I was wrong to doubt him initially, but all those concerns - and more - are rising swiftly to the surface now.

One aspect that worked so well for us last season was that we had few injuries and played pretty much the same XI, in a 3-5-2 formation, week in, week out, as they were all performing so impressively.

This season they haven't been, but one of Cotterill's major problems is that he sticks to his guns, and the team barely changes. Added to that, the fact he rarely makes substitutions until the 90th minute (again, something that wasn't an issue when we were winning 30+ games last year) and his ability to change the course of a game, his lack of flexibility, his stubbornness and approach of blaming anyone and everyone else for our struggles are all question marks very much being brought to the fore.

The main problem is that because of this, it's not obvious how things are going to change for the better. There's an argument to say we've been quite unlucky, missing out on many points late on and by narrow margins, but naivety could easily replace unlucky in that sentence.

I'd say I'm pretty much smack in the middle - I'm prepared to give him the season based on what he achieved last time out, but a good proportion of fans, probably now the slight majority, think it's time he was moved on.

Are you confident that you will avoid an instant return to League One?

January will be so crucial for us. Four of the loan signings have gone back to their clubs so we have a squad of 17-18, around half of whom clearly aren't up to playing at this level every week. We need at least three major signings in key positions to give us core strength, tightening up one of the division's leakiest defences, whilst supporting Kodjia who is the only one who looks like a regular goal threat.

Am I confident? No. Do I think we'll survive? Yes, just about - this is a young group of players and hopefully they'll continue to learn and develop as the season progresses, with the help of some streetwise, savvy pros.

Talk us through your squad, strengths? weaknesses?

Aside from a couple of incoming, it's still largely the team that performed so magnificently last season, but unfortunately many of the stars of that team haven't stepped up as we expected. Local lad Joe Bryan was reportedly being watched by Everton this time last year and in the summer our fans were even questioning how far he was from the England under-21 set-up, but he's been exposed defensively this season, has been in and out of the team and needs a boost of confidence.

Luke Freeman spent last season battling it out with Dele Alli for the crown of the division's outstanding player - a creative midfielder of the same mould, but he looks like he needs too long on the ball, doesn't look up quickly enough and hasn't had the same impact this time around. 

More specifically, we get caught on the break far too often and I'm terrified as to what Saido Berahino may do to us if he's given a chance on Saturday. The 3-5-2 formation Cotterill is stubbornly sticking to is being increasingly exposed as teams have worked out that by playing wide men high up the pitch, they easily get in behind the wing-backs. This leads to our centre-halves having to pull wide to cover and then we're short on numbers in the middle. In part answer to your earlier question, one of the really frustrating things is that all the fans can see this so clearly, so why can't Cotterill?

City player for Albion to watch out for?

In terms of threats then Aden Flint and Nathan Baker are hulking big defenders who are always a menace at set-pieces, but i'm sure Mr Pulis will have them sussed. Kodjia is the top scorer and our most obvious threat, but you're just as likely to be in danger if you're sitting ten yards to the left of the goal than you would be sitting in the goalmouth. He scores, but he misses a lot more and is offside an awful lot.

How important is the game for City? How much interest in the game is there from City fans?

We've sold out all 5,300 tickets so there's plenty of interest - perhaps its one of those seasons where we need an escape from the drudgery of the league campaign and there aren't any Premier League teams more accessible in terms of travel.

Ultimately, as with so many clubs these days, it's not as important as the league campaign, but I'm never one to 'hope' we go out and can concentrate on the league - a surprise win or draw might be just what this group needs to give them renewed confidence in their ability and propel our season forward.

Thoughts on Albion? Any of our players you rate?

Obviously under Pulis you look set up to be tough to beat, albeit sometimes this season that plan has gone badly wrong. You're hard-working, effective at set-pieces and not necessarily the prettiest team to watch in the league, but you know you'll finish 10th-14th and well clear of the relegation dog-fight. If that's the criteria for success, for a season or two, then I'm sure you'd be happy, although I suspect many are now looking at Stoke and wondering when you can dispense of the efficiency and become more expansive and fun to watch?

I'm assuming Berahino and Lambert will play and both could cause us problems for different reasons. Lambert has cup history with us, denying us a place at Wembley when with our arch-rivals Rovers, and is sure to get a special reception!

McManaman will have acres of space to run into if he times his runs well and could be the man of the match (partly due to our formation and failings).

Any memories that stand out from previous Albion v City games?

Plenty actually, it's one of those games that seems to have been relatively common over the past 20 years considering you've spent a fair amount of time in the top flight, plus we've played each other on Boxing Day a few times and those games tend to stick in the memory.

The BBC-televised 2-1 win at Ashton Gate recently was a great game. Danny Haynes performed like never before or since for us and destroyed Joe Mattock down the flank.  I also clearly remember a couple of 4-1 defeats! Going back a while a 1-0 Boxing Day win (I think Nicky Morgan scored for us) at the Hawthorns not long after Denis Smith had been sacked is another positive memory.

Thoughts on and prediction for Saturday's game? How are City likely to line up?

We'll be 3-5-2 and line up as follows - it's all so predictable.

Fielding; Ayling, Flint, Baker (if he's not cup tied?); Bennett, Pack, Smith, Freeman, Bryan; Kodjia, Wilbraham

Personally I'm a little fearful. We've gone to strong sides Burnley and Derby in the last month and lost 4-0 at each, with the star player (Gray and Ince respectively) scoring a hat-trick. I've seen little to suggest the same won't happen, especially if Berahino is given time to show everyone what they've been missing and proves his point.

 © www.albiontillwedie.co.uk unless otherwise stated