Lee Johnson is in bullish mood about the last nine games his Bristol City side will play in their 2019-20 Championship campaign, writes Gareth Davies.
The Robins have not played since March 7 when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Fulham. However, after the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, City finally got their campaign back underway yesterday at Blackburn Rovers.
This week, before his squad departed for Lancashire, Johnson spoke to The Indy in a virtual press conference via video-link. When asked if he felt his side were better placed now for a play-off push, compared to March, Johnson was unequivocal in his response.
“We are in a much better place now,” he said. “Obviously the new players are fully integrated and that becomes important because our system of play is not necessarily a simple one. It takes three or four weeks to bed in and to understand the patterns and movements.
“Also, just having players at full tilt, players like Tomas Kalas who was still chasing fitness physically because of his injury. Now, we have a pretty clean bill of health which puts us in a really good place, particularly now you can use five substitutes from nine.
“That becomes a really important dynamic and will very be interesting and actually, provide a lot of good entertainment for the viewer because the tempo of the game will naturally stay higher.”
Johnson went on to laud the return of his star players from full fitness with both defender Tomas Kalas and Benik Afobe firing on all cylinders, along with the injury plagued Korey Smith.
He added: “Clubs like ours aren’t one of the big hitters in the Championship as we haven’t got parachute payments. We need our best players, we need our key players fit and often those players down the spine are key for a good performance. Everything then spreads from the quality of those performers so again; Korey Smith is in a very good place after being in a very difficult place with injuries.
“I feel confident that we have options and confident that physically we are in a good place – now it is about crossing the white line and being able to cope with the different circumstances of actually producing a performance at a time which is unnatural for a seasoned professional.
The City boss reserved special praise for Afobe after he battled both a serious knee injury and personal tragedy since moving to BS3 on loan from Stoke City last August.
“The more experience you can have whether that’s out of League One or into the Premier League via the Championship, is absolutely vital,” he said. “The positive attitude that Benik brings in his personality is infectious, and he has the ability to lift players and people around him.
“We are so pleased for him because he has battled through some difficult personal and family circumstances as everybody knows. As a human and a professional footballer, I can’t speak any more highly of him.”