ADEN Flint’s decision to sign a new Bristol City contract during last week provided a huge boost at a difficult stage in the season.
It has long been my belief that the club need to build hopes of playing in the Premier League around their defensive Colossus, who has proved such an inspiration at both ends of the pitch in recent seasons.
And, while Lee Johnson has not always been as convinced of Flint’s value to the side, he now happily acknowledges the central-defender’s immense contribution to the progress made under his guidance.
Despite winning two ‘Player of the Season’ awards in his five years at Ashton Gate, Aden’s future with City has often been the subject of speculation – never more so than at the start of this season when he seemed no higher than fourth in the pecking order for centre-back places.
Johnson paired Jens Hegeler and Bailey Wright at the back for the opening Championship games. And when Flint was introduced as a late substitute for the 3-1 home win over Barnsley, which launched the campaign, many saw it as a farewell.
Birmingham City came in with a bid, which was dismissed as derisory and rejected. Even so, it seemed the right offer would be acceptable, so when the August transfer window closed with the former Swindon Town player still at Ashton Gate, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. At the end of his first season in charge of the team in May 2016, I quoted Johnson in this column as saying that Flint was open to a “30 per cent improvement in his game.”
While no-one debated the big defender’s ability to get goals and dominate in the air, there were question-marks over his positional play at times.
My view was always that Flint’s other qualities, which include superb fitness and disciplinary records, and his way of leading by example in the fearless manner of Shaun Taylor 20 years earlier, more than made up for occasional errors.
In any event, he has now clearly answered any criticisms. Announcing the new contract – and there is an option for City to extend it to 2021 – Johnson said: “Aden has improved dramatically. He has progressed with every manager he has played for, which goes to show he is a good professional. We’ve had offers for him, including bits and bobs during the January window. I am pleased for him and the club that we have been able to reach an agreement.”
Flint will be a key figure as Johnson looks to his City players to “rediscover their mojo” and “perform without fear” over the remainder of their Championship promotion challenge.