With a 20-goal striker the Robins can challenge for Championship play-offs



Bristol City can realistically target a top-half finish in the Sky Bet Championship this season with the strength in depth now assembled by Lee Johnson at Ashton Gate.

Bobby Reid
Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has made a good start to life as a striker but the Robins will be hoping he can hit the magic 20-goal mark to help their pursuit of the play-offs. PICTURE: DOUGIE ALLWARD / JMP
I would go further and predict a play-off challenge if it were not for the one remaining question mark that exists in my mind about the current pool of players.

Is there a 20 goals-plus marksman among them?

Bobby Reid has begun the season on fire, but it is asking a lot of the former midfielder to mark his first season as a forward with such a figure.

It’s fair to say that the jury is still out on club record signing Famara Diedhiou, whose only goal going into yesterday’s Championship match at Reading came in the opening day win over Barnsley.

Diedhiou has impressed me with his strength and athleticism. But whether he can make the sort of contribution that Tammy Abraham offered last season remains to be seen.

Promotion challengers tend to have at least one prolific striker.

If City can find one this season, the competition for places brought about by shrewd transfer activity and the development of young players offers genuine cause for optimism.

Johnson is not short of options all over the pitch, with Matt Taylor, Milan Djuric and Jonathan Leko sure to keep Diedhiou and Reid on their toes.

Taylor and Djuric did enough last season to suggest they are not out of place in the Championship and, while both are playing catch-up in terms of match fitness after missing so many weeks of training, their time may come.

Leko is something of an unknown quantity to City fans, but Johnson clearly views him as an exciting talent, with pace, and I am looking forward to watching him.

Cauley Woodrow, another season-long recruit, will also be gunning for a regular place, while Freddie Hinds demonstrated his potential before joining Cheltenham Town on loan until January.

Strikers

lee_johnson
Lee Johnson’s man-management skills will be tested. Photo: PA Images
Keeping half-a-dozen strikers happy will be a test of Johnson’s man-management skills when all are fit and that also applies to the wingers, with Jamie Paterson and Josh Brownhill facing competition from Niclas Eliasson and Callum O’Dowda.

Paterson has progressed in leaps and bounds since arriving from Nottingham Forest a year ago and is one of the most skilful players to have donned a City shirt in recent years.

Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has made a good start to life as a striker but the Robins will be hoping he can hit the magic 20-goal mark to help their pursuit of the Brownhill is also a burgeoning talent and it’s hard to recall the club having four such incisive flank players on their books at the same time.

Playing 4-4-2 in the Championship with orthodox wingers makes it essential to have central midfielders with a high work rate. City have exactly that in Korey Smith, Marlon Pack and Gary O’Neil, two of whom should feature in every match.

That only leaves one as cover and it may be an area to strengthen looking ahead. Jens Hegeler can play there, but from what we have seen he appears far better suited to central defence.

That is another area where City have rarely had such riches from which to pick. Nathan Baker has been outstanding since his £2.5-million move from Aston Villa, while Bailey Wright has responded to the added responsibility of being captain with a series of assured displays.

Hordur Magnusson has never let City down and regular readers of this column will know of my high regard for Aden Flint. Even if both current first choices were injured or suspended, Johnson would be able to pick from three strong and experienced replacements.

Eros Pisano has made the team look more resolute with some no-nonsense defending at right-back. And, while Joe Bryan still has work to do on that side of his game, his exciting ability going forward more than compensates.

Should Johnson need to change either full-back, the emergence of Zak Vyner and Lloyd Kelly into genuine first-team contenders offers insurance in another department.

So when Luke Steele signed to provide experienced competition for goalkeeper Frank Fielding, the balance of the squad looked more complete than it has done for some while.

Of course, only 11 can start each game and the lack of a competitive reserve league – which I continue to find unfathomable – makes it difficult to keep fringe players fully match sharp.

But that is a far preferable prob- lem to lacking depth in certain de- partments, which was the case with City last season.
I always believe in waiting ten games to make any confident pre- diction about the team’s prospects. But I am already convinced that having strong cover for all posi- tions will see the Robins improve on their last campaign.

If City are challenging for the top six at Christmas, Steve Lansdown will no doubt sanction more spending.

In the meantime, it will be far fairer to judge Johnson on the months ahead than it was when so many critics were on his back last season.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.