City Pay The Penalty Against The Tractor Boys

Bristol City’s miserable end to the season continued yesterday, as an injury-time penalty cost them 2 points at home to Ipswich.

City were undone by two former Real Madrid and Barcelona players. After a late corner, substitute striker Peter Styvar fouled former Madrid man Ivan Campo to give away the spot kick, which was duly dispatched by Giovani dos Santos, the former Barcelona man on-loan at Ipswich from Spurs.

The late equaliser was the final hammer blow to City’s play-off hopes which have ground to a disappointing halt over the past few weeks.

The game itself was, by Gary Johnson’s admission, a “dull” affair, with Marvin Elliott, making his first start since returning from injury, putting the Robins ahead shortly after the break.

Giovani dos Santos: Clinched a last gasp draw for the away side

But, City, like in many important games this season, were unable to hold on to a lead in a game they really should have won.

The poor end to the season could cost some City players their future with the team, with Johnson currently running the rule over who will remain with the side for next season. When asked by the Bristol Evening Post whether his players did enough to secure their position for next season, he replied: “Some have and some haven’t.”

In addition to Elliott’s encouraging performance and goal following his lay-off, the only real bright point to be drawn from the game is the performance of Stephen Henderson in goal. Normally City’s third choice shot-stopper, Henderson was called into action when Adriano Basso had to retire due to injury after just 9 minutes. With second-choice keeper Chris Weale currently on loan at former club Yeovil, Henderson was the only man available to replace the enigmatic Brazilian.

He answered the call superbly, making a number of good saves to keep Ipswich at bay, even earning an “are you Basso in disguise?” chant from the raucous East End contingent. After preventing possible breaches from dos Santos and Ivan Campo earlier in the game, Henderson was visibly disappointed at failing to save the penalty. However, few City fans will be angry with the Irish Under-21 international following such a promising performance.

Stephen Henderson pulled off a great performance

However, nothing disguises the fact that City should have killed the game off earlier. Nicky Maynard missed a golden chance early in the game, sweeping wide a shot which should have tested Richard Wright in the Ipswich goal at the very least. Later in the game, Cole Skuse should have done better after some nice link-up play with Dele Adebola, but instead hit the ball straight at Richard Wright enabling the former Arsenal man to parry it to safety. Gavin Williams and Lee Johnson both hit good chances over the bar.

If I could take a fan’s perspective for a moment, I think that this game sums up, perfectly, our season for the most part, and again highlighted problems which Gary Johnson really needs to deal with over the Summer.

Firstly, the problem with holding on to a lead. We saw it on Saturday against Forest and against Preston and Cardiff before that, as well as at numerous other points during this season. The seeming inability to defend corners, which has resulted in easy near-post finished for the opposition in recent weeks, and the penalty yesterday, has highlighted a real problem in the City defence. When inspirational captain Louis Carey is not in the side, like yesterday, City’s defence flounder. Granted, Cole Skuse had to fill in at left-back after McAliister’s red card against Forest over the weekend, and he looked rightfully uncomfortable. But, this illustrates the fact that we need some more strength in depth. If we really are to challenge for promotion to the Premier League, then we need to sign some more quality defenders. With McAllister suspended and youngster Christian Ribero still recovering form injury, we obviously had noone Johnson felt was up to filling the berth on the left hand side of defence. Teams like Wolves, Birmingham, Reading etcetera have players who are up to the job of filling the positions when people are injured and suspended. We need more players in the squad, so for Johnson to talk about actually getting rid of players seems a little nonsensical to me . Izzy Iriekpen, in what I think was his only start for City so far, was as solid as we could expect him to be, but Jamie McCombe, who has played with us for a while now, again made a number of mistakes which Ipswich did not take advantage off. Forest took full advantage of them on Saturday, though, with McCombe somehow letting Robert Earnshaw to elude him when he really should have won the ball easily. McCombe can be good when on form, but this form has deserted him recently. I have faith that he will be able to pick himself up again, though, but whether he is good enough to consistently perform at this level is again up in the air a bit for me.

Another, recurrent problem which I regularly pick out of bad performances is Lee Johnson. Yes, Lee Johnson, full stop. Every City fan knows that he’s in the team because his dad is the manager. Other fans have complained about the Lee Johnson-hating, and said that blaming it all on nepotism is a low blow on Johnson senior’s integrity. But, I truly cannot see any other reason why Lee is in the starting line-up every week. When all of our regular starting eleven are fit, Johnson plays alongside Marvin Elliott who, although showing his attacking prowess with the goal yesterday, is for the most part more of a holding midfielder who will venture forward when needed. Lee Johnson is supposed to be the playmaker, while he also takes most of our set pieces. In such a role, one would expect him to be able to deliver penetrating forward passes confidently, as well as be able to maintain possession when under pressure, as well as deliver good crosses and free kicks from set pieces. Obviously any player cannot be expected to be completely consistent all of the time, but Lee Johnson doesn’t seem to be able to do any of those very well. 99% of his crosses from corners never get past the first defender, or go straight to the goal keeper, while I can count the amount of times he has ever scored from a free kick on one hand over the years he has been in the side. In addition, he is guilty, too often, of giving the ball away under any ounce of pressure. The same was true yesterday, when his mistake, after having two chances to get the ball away, forced City to give away the corner which eventually led to the penalty and dos Santos’ equaliser. I hate to single out individual players for criticism, but I am fed up of Lee Johnson. If he picks up his performances next season, and he will be the first name on the team sheet as always next term, then I will gladly come back onto this site and admit I was wrong But, for now, in my opinion Lee Johnson is now strong, accurate or skilled enough to play at Championship level or above. League 1, yes, Championship, afraid not.

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson: Weak link?

For Gary Johnson, it’s time to get working in the transfer window, or we’ll suffer the same fate next season, nearly getting there but lacking that bit of consistent quality and strength in depth needed to ultimately succeed. Last season set the bar high, time to match it with some shrewd signings. I’m resigned to the fact that crowd favourites David Noble (who I feel could play Lee Johnson’s role much better than Lee himself) and Lee Trundle, who have barely featured this season, are going out the exit door, but bringing in people like Peter Styvar who has looked out of his depth, will not do the trick. Come on Johnson, time to prove me wrong.

Bristol City 1-1 Ipswich Town
Bristol City Goals: Marvin Elliott, 49.
Ipswich Town Goals: Giovani dos Santos, pen, 90.

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