SIGNS ARE GOOD AT THE ‘GATE’ AS LEE’S SQUAD GET OFF TO THRILLING START


WHILE it is ridiculously early to make any predictions about Bristol City’s prospects this season, Ashton Gate fans already appear to be guaranteed rich entertainment.

Some of the football produced by Lee Johnson’s men, first against Barnsley in the Championship, and then in the thumping Carabao Cup victory over Plymouth Argyle, was exhilarating.

And, as if that wasn’t enough to whet the appetite of supporters, Tuesday night’s 5-0 destruction of Argyle was quickly followed by the signing of another exciting attacker in Swedish winger Niclas Eliasson.

The 21-year-old, from IFK Norrkoping, cost around £2-million and lists his main quality as taking on defenders in one-on-one situations.

With Jamie Paterson, Josh Brownhill and Callum O’Dowda all having impressed in the opening fixtures, it will be interesting to see which two of the quartet can nail down regular places on the flanks.

Whatever the case, all credit must go to head coach Johnson and his staff for the thrilling start to the home programme, which saw the team impress in so many ways.

When I wrote in this column about the importance of hitting the ground running after last season’s prolonged relegation battle, I little imagined that it would happen in such spectacular fashion.

Granted, a Barnsley team in the midst of upheaval and a Plymouth side showing nine changes from their opening League game were not the strongest opposition.

But nothing should detract from the style and quality of football with which City tore them apart, every player showing confidence on the ball and a fierce desire to win back possession when it was lost.

In my preview of the season I also suggested that young players would need to step up if City were to be a force in the Championship this season.

Having seen the performances of Zak Vyner, Freddie Hinds, Lloyd Kelly and Joe Morrell against Plymouth, there is every reason to believe that will be the case.

Of course, no one should be getting carried away on the evidence of two games. But there was so much to admire about the individual contributions against Barnsley and Plymouth.

Not least the performances of Johnson’s summer signings. I can honestly say that Famara Diedhiou made an impression on me a matter of seconds after emerging from the players’ tunnel for the Barnsley match.

Having taken only a couple of paces towards the pitch, the £5.3-million striker produced a prodigious leap into the air that demonstrated remarkable spring from virtually a standing position.

Diedhiou gave a repeat performance to head home Bobby Reid’s 25th minute cross, having made the first goal for his strike partner by easing his marker off the ball by sheer physical presence.

Reid’s elusive running in both opening games was a revelation, while Paterson, a player whose skills I am
coming to admire more with every game, and Brownhill also contributed to some breathtaking interchanges.

But it wasn’t just going forward that City caught the eye. When the ball was lost the players hunted in packs, working feverishly to win it back high up the field.

It is already clear that anyone not prepared to do that will find himself surplus to requirements this season. Combine high workrate with skilful individual players and you have a potent combination.

Jens Hegeler looks so much more comfortable at centre-back than in some of his central midfield displays last season. Bailey Wright is a combative new captain and Nathan Baker excelled on his debut against Barnsley.

Baker had a tendency to leap into tackles, not always judiciously, during his loan period with City. If he can temper that and keep out of trouble with referees he could prove a very shrewd recruit.

Eros Pisano did well as a defender and pushing forward against Barnsley, while Joe Bryan, who had an in-and-out campaign last year, gave a performance Johnson described as the best he had ever seen by a City left-back.

Lee’s assistant Jamie McAllister may have something to say about that! His influence since joining the first team coaching staff should not be underestimated and it was good to see him conduct the post match press conference after the Plymouth game.

Farcical

The only sour note was struck when McAllister revealed that Aden Flint had been due to start for City, only to be pulled out following a meeting with Johnson and amid all the speculation about his future.

The head coach later made it clear it was his decision and not Flint’s. But it was surely another indication that the big centre- back’s days at Ashton Gate are numbered.

Since then another farcical Carabao Cup draw has paired City with one of Johnson’s old clubs Watford in the second round. Initially it seemed the tie would be at Ashton Gate, but somehow there had been an error and the Robins will be going to Vicarage Road instead.

The City boss learned his trade as a young player at Watford between 1998 and 2000, having started out with Arsenal. Dad Gary was youth coach with the Hornets at the time so there is a strong family connection.

Meanwhile, striker Gustav Engvail has rejoined Swedish club Djurgardens until the end of November, having scored seven goals in 13 appearances for them during his previous loan spell.

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.