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Bristol City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship

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Fan Focus: What can Sunderland expect today from Bristol City? Robins fan Patrick reveals all

We sat down for a chat with Bristol City fan Patrick Connolly ahead of today’s game to find out more about Sunderland’s opponents. Should we be wary of them after their great recent form?

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Bristol City are on a run of 10 matches in unbeaten in all competitions - what are the key factors behind your brilliant form?

Patrick Connolly: If you go back to our FA Cup game against Swansea on 8th January, we had won once in the past 11 games, we were 1-0 down at half time and we were being completely dominated.

Nigel Pearson, after persevering with five at the back for far too long, switched formation to 4-3-3, and there was a complete transformation in our side.

We dominated Swansea in the second half, were very unlucky not to win (yet more penalty appeals turned down) and since then we’ve played with four at the back and what a difference it has made.

Nigel Pearson is now the third longest-serving manager in the Championship. How would you summarise his time at the club?

PC: Nigel Pearson’s overall record with us is poor and at most other clubs he would have been sacked long before now.

We played at home to West Brom on Boxing Day, and it was dismal. It was men versus boys and there was a general consensus that Pearson had run out of ideas and that his time was up.

Fair play to our owner Stephen Lansdown for holding firm, because less than two months later there is completely renewed optimism around the club. We’re looking more solid at the back, a threat upfront and the players are playing for the shirt. Suddenly we all like Nigel Pearson again and the future is bright.

Bristol City v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship
Nigel Pearson guided Bristol City to a 17th place finish last season, as well as 19th in the one beforehand.
Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Given your recent up turn in form, are fans starting to think about a late surge for the playoffs, or is safety the ultimate goal?

PC: The playoffs have been mentioned, but realistically most fans think this is unlikely.

For now, we’re just enjoying supporting a team that is working hard, playing some really nice football and we’ve almost stopped looking over our shoulders at the relegation zone…almost.

This Bristol City side features an array of young talent through the likes Tommy Conway, Alex Scott and Sam Bell - does the club have very high hopes for these players?

PC: Bristol City and Sunderland are both prospering with young players in their side. The big difference is that we have no players with us on loan.

Our academy is our pride and joy. It is likely that we will line up against Sunderland with five players who came through our academy, with more on the bench, Tommy Conway who is injured who also came through the academy and Antoine Semenyo, who has just been sold to Bournemouth. We have more future first-teamers in the pipeline.

Of all of these, Alex Scott is the jewel in our crown. When we beat West Brom 3-0 on 28th January, the performance of Alex Scott was the best individual performance I’ve ever seen from a Bristol City player in about four decades of watching them. He is 19-years-old and he is very special.

We’ve had some players who have left us and gone to the Premier League, and there will be more if we don’t get promoted. Alex Scott is better than all of those and potentially much better than all of them.

I say this only half joking, but an England midfield of Rice, Bellingham and Scott at the 2026 World Cup wouldn’t be a major surprise to Bristol City supporters.

Reading v Bristol City - Sky Bet Championship - Select Car Leasing Stadium Photo by Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images

Speaking of academy graduates, ex-Sunderland loanee Antoine Semenyo joined Bournemouth for £10m. Do you think he is ready for Premier League football?

PC: There were times last season when Semenyo was unplayable. If you were a Championship defender then you most definitely didn’t want to be marking him. He was so strong and powerful, and at the same time he eased past defenders seemingly in second gear.

This season was very stop-start. He was injured at the start of the season and then when he could play, he was in and out of the side, despite the fact that he could do things that none of our other strikers could.

If I was a defender and you gave me the choice of marking Chris Martin, Nakhi Wells, Andi Weimann or Antoine Semenyo, my answer is anybody but Semenyo.

Eventually, Pearson started picking him more regularly and he started to show form again, but then we sold him. He has lots of great attributes, and I hope that he can be an effective Premier League player, but he is still quite raw, especially with his finishing, and so will probably need some time to adapt.

Ex-first-choice goalkeeper Dan Bentley was sold to Wolves in January, with experienced heads Timm Klose and Chris Martin also leaving - was it integral that the club trimmed the wage bill?

PC: We needed to cut the wage bill, but (I think) all of these players were out of contract at the end of the season, and so that’s not necessarily the reason they left. None of them were in the first team.

Many fans were surprised earlier in the season when Bentley was dropped and replaced with Max O’Leary. Max didn’t seem to have a real presence in goal, but in hindsight, Pearson was right to make the call. Max doesn’t look very big, but he is very brave and with him in goal we’ve stopped conceding the countless number of goals that we did from corners and free kicks. Max has definitely earned the number-one spot.

Chris Martin played as the central point of our attack for a long time, and he seemed almost undroppable, which made no sense as in many games we offered very little attacking threat. He is an excellent professional but as a defender you would be quite happy to be marking him.

As with our change of formation, the decision to drop him seemed to happen by accident. After we lost at home to Sunderland, we played away to Coventry in the Carabao Cup. Martin was rested, youngster Tommy Conway came in, we played brilliantly, won 4-1 and Conway scored twice. Martin played in the next game, a dull 1-1 draw with Wigan, and then he was replaced.

We won 4 and drew 1 of our next 5 league games without him and we scored at least twice in each of those games, and the tactic of kicking the ball up the field to the experienced striker was replaced with trying to have youth and speed in our attack.

Bristol City v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

In terms of incomings, Anis Mehmeti and Harry Cornick were both signed on deadline day. How have they got on so far?

PC: Mehmeti and Cornick both started in the home game against Wigan on Wednesday. While definitely not prolific, Cornick is a decent championship striker.

However, we are already getting excited about Mehmeti. Please have a look at his assist for Rob Atkinson’s goal against Wigan. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he starts against Sunderland.

How do you think Pearson will approach the match tactically?

PC: We will play 4-3-3. If we win the midfield battle then that’s not a good sign for Sunderland, if we don’t then we can still be a real threat on the counter attack.

Which eleven players do you think he will select and who will Tony Mowbray’s side have to be wary of?

PC: The team is likely to be O’Leary – Tanner, Vyner. Atkinson, Pring – Williams, James, Scott – Bell/Mehmeti, Wells, Sykes.

There is a good chance that Alex Scott will be the best footballer on the pitch, Anis Mehmeti looks an exciting signing and also watch out for Cameron Pring. Pring is a really good left back and a genuine threat going forwards.

Sunderland’s last home victory against The Robins came back in 1994 - what is your score prediction for this time around?

PC: In the home game against Sunderland we played five at the back with Chris Martin as the main striker. We were bullied by Ellis Simms and couldn’t cope with Jack Clarke running at our defence. It was a close game, but you won fair and square.

Sunderland are in great form, but we’ve become difficult to beat and we have an attacking threat. I’d say 2-2.


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