2009/10 Season Review - Part One
It's been a turbulent season for us City fans this year but then again since when has anything been done the easy way at Ashton Gate?!
Back in the close season last year, we had to endure Gary Johnson spinning us line's in the media that a "top-two finish" was the target for 2009/10 when all who had watched the drab performances of the previous season knew top-ten was a more realistic aspiration. Sadly though, a lot of the club's newer fans clung on to this sort of spin which created a false expectation and it was to prove one of the swords Johnson was to fall upon in the end.
Rumblings were already growing behind the scenes that things weren't quite right off the field as we approached the season curtain-raiser away at Preston. Rumours were circulating around town of disharmony within the camp, which started with the public fall-out between star keeper Adriano Basso and Gary Johnson. The pair had previously been as thick as thieves and the clash which forced Basso out in exile meant the squad took the field at Deepdale on the opening day without his infectious professionalism and belief.
However, hopes were high back in August after the marquee signings of Danny Haynes and Paul Hartley added much-needed pace and experience to the squad but the summer sale of Michael McIndoe, and subsequent failure to replace him, left the squad completely unbalanced. We had only one winger (Ivan Sproule) on our books and no left-sided midfielder at the club whatsoever.
Despite that, Johnson abandoned the trusted 4-5-1/4-4-2 that had brought solidity and success in our first season at Championship level two-years ago to go with a new 3-5-2 formation, asking steady full-backs Jamie McAllister and Bradley Orr to masquerade as wing-backs. It all began so well as debutants David Clarkson and Paul Hartley gave City a 2-0 lead at a sun-drenched Deepdale before the latter was subbed with 15 minutes to go. The substitution saw the wheels fall off and a return to last season's trend in surrendering the initiative as North End scoring a last-gasp equaliser to make it 2-2. And so it began!
Controversy followed in the first home game of the season with the phantom goal which saw one of the most inexplicable pieces of refereeing from Rob Shoebridge that the game has ever seen. Without digging all that up again, Nicky Maynard hit the goal trail in a 1-0 win before repeating the same feat with the first of many beauties in the following game with pre-season promotion favourites QPR. His strike partner that day was Andrius Velicka, who surely became the most expensive City player ever when his five minutes in the red shirt cost the club £500k in fees and wages before injury ended his loan spell from SPL giants Rangers. More money was to be chucked at the situation as Costa Rican international hit man Alvaro Saborio was brought in to replace Velicka a few weeks later.
Then the first of many debacles arrived with a disgraceful derby day performance which saw us hammered 3-0 over the bridge in Cardiff. Johnson often said it was how you respond from such a performance that proves what your side is made of but a strong City side pathetically bowed out to League One strugglers Carlisle in the next game. Alarm bells should've been sounding out loud and clear given how the previous season ended but again it was swept under the carpet and ignored by the majority.
Without blaming individuals, it certainly seemed to me that the dynamic of the side had been lost in the defeats to Cardiff and Carlisle as the much-maligned Lee Johnson kept his place in the midfield ahead of the impressive Hartley for most of September, a period that saw successive low-scoring draws through most of the month as more stoppage-time goals cost City three points against Scunthorpe and Peterborough.
The early season promise of Nicky Maynard was a real plus though. After scoring some absolutely top-class goals against the likes of Palace, QPR, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Blackpool early on, the ex-Crewe youngster clearly had worked hard over the summer months and started repaying the £2.25m City spent 12-months earlier with interest. Poor tactics saw him starved of service though as his formed dipped going into the winter.
The home game with Plymouth in October represented a turning point on that front. Hartley was restored to the midfield and City swept to a 3-1 win, albeit against a very poor Argyle side destined for a relegation dogfight, and followed that up with our first away win of the season came at Barnsley to amazingly put us fifth in the table! Normal service was resumed though as more last-minute drama cost another two points at home to struggling Sheffield Wednesday the following weekend.
An away thrashing predictably arrived at West Brom, a place where we usually get sod all from, before spectacular individual goals from Ivan Sproule, Cole Skuse, and Evander Sno earned our first win at Leicester in my living memory!
The late goals curse was getting beyond a joke now as Christmas approached, with Reading and Watford both picking up points at Ashton Gate by scoring stoppage-time equalisers. Legend had it, it wasn't because a jealous Gashead was sticking pins into his City doll as some sort of voodoo trick to ship all these late levellers but actually because Jamie McCombe was injured and we were missing his head-on-a-stick style defending! Or so Johnson would have us believe!
Maynard ended the year in style though. First he ended his 10-game goal drought with a tremendous volley on the turn at QPR on Boxing Day - a goal that was voted as THE goal of 2009 - before curling another sublime effort at home to Watford.
Now for the small matter of starting the New Year with an FA Cup third round tie at home to bitter rivals Cardiff in yet another Severnside derby in January!
* Keep an eye out for Part Two of our Season Review to come out on Wednesday next week.