STEVE Bruce heaped praise on Bristol City players and fans after his Aston Villa side had been forced to pull out all the stops to earn a point at Ash- ton Gate.
The Villa boss, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to achieve success in the Championship, was still breathless when attend- ing his post-match press conference after Friday night’s pulsating 1-1 draw.
Before discussing his own team’s performance, Bruce made a point of expressing his admiration for Lee Johnson’s men and the backing they received from a 21,000 crowd, which included more than 3,000 travelling fans.
He said: ‘Both sets of supporters contributed to a brilliant atmosphere and fair play to the people at Bristol City for what they have done over the last few years.
‘It is lovely stadium to play at and it won’t be easy for any side coming here this season.
‘The club have bought wisely and have a decent team. There is a good feeling about the place and I can see them doing well.
‘Our fans buy every available ticket for away games and they are all like Cup ties. Tonight the Bristol supporters really made themselves heard and the ground was buzzing.’
Bruce, who has won promotion from the Championship four times as a manager, admitted to having been forced to change the shape of the team early in the game, largely because they couldn’t handle Bobby Reid.
‘We wanted to try a back-three, but we didn’t look comfortable and I didn’t think we got to grips with the guy playing off their front-man,’ he said.
‘I switched to four at the back and we were better after that. Unfortunately, Chris Samba picked up a knee injury and we had to change things again for the second-half.’
Samba had excelled along- side former England captain John Terry, who demonstrated all his experience. But Bailey Wright and Nathan Baker, the defender Bruce sold to City for £2.5- million, lost nothing in comparison.
Explaining his decision to let Baker sign at Ashton Gate, the Villa manager said: ‘I have been put in a position where I have to balance the books
‘We received a decent offer and it was one of those football decisions, which are never easy to take,
‘Nathan will be a good acquisition for Bristol City, I am sure of that. He is a good lad and I wish him the best of luck with his career.’
Bruce didn’t share Lee Johnson’s view that City should have been awarded a second-half penalty for handball against John Terry when Josh Brownhill attempted to lift the ball past him.
‘It was more ball-to-hand than anything,’ he said. ‘It has come up and hit him on the arm and you would be disappointed as a defender if a penalty was given in that situation.
‘The way the referee per- formed I expected him to give it. But it was not inten- tional and, thankfully, he saw it that way.’
While conceding that Villa’s equalising goal was fortunate because Josh Onomah’s shot took a deflection, Bruce insisted that evened things out because Famara Diedhiou was off-side in the melee that led to Jamie Paterson giving City the lead.
Overall, his press conference was eloquent, informative and, at times, humorous.
Asked by a Midlands reporters whether he was sorry to have the international break after a good week, he replied: ‘Am I b*******! This has been the toughest start to a season I have known in 20 years!’
Bruce’s generous comments about City came at the end of a week that saw four of the club’s most promising Academy products pen extended contracts.
Zak Vyner agreed a new three-year deal, while Lloyd Kelly signed for the next two seasons, with the option of a further year.
Goalkeepers Jojo Wollacott, who has joined Bath City on a season-long loan, and Max O’Leary also signed new two-year deals, with a year’s option.
Defenders Vyner and Kelly were both involved in the midweek 3-2 victory over Premier League Watford in the Carabao Cup, which earned City a home tie against Stoke City in the third round.
Johnson was able to make nine changes for the Watford game and still come out on top, thanks partly to the development of his younger players, which is making the squad a good deal stronger than last season.
He said: ‘Everyone involved in the Academy setup deserves a huge pat on the back for their ongoing work to support the first team by developing these players.’
Now it remains to be seen how City’s squad will be affected by the final week of the transfer window.
Will Birmingham City renew interest in Aden Flint and Joe Bryan, who has also attracted speculation about a move to the Premier League?
One other player who might attract interest is Matt Taylor, approaching full fitness again after his groin injury and in need of games after missing the entire pre-season.
Johnson does not rule out departures and it could prove an interesting few days.