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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.