Words By: Paul Uren
Bristol City fell to a disappointing defeat at Ashton Gate last night, to a Preston side coming off the back of no wins in their last seven matches, whilst City were odds on with the bookies for a victory to consolidate their position within the higher echelons of the Championship. The form book was well and truly torn up, if not sodden, on a wet night in BS3.
Head coach Lee Johnson made three changes to the side that had drawn at Sheffield Wednesday, with captain Bailey Wright returning at full back following suspension and World Cup duty for Australia, along with Milan Djuric and Jamie Paterson.
Preston had the better of the early exchanges with Paul Huntington’s early header drifting wide but gradually City started to find a bit of rhythm with a fine passing move down the right hand side with Callum O’Dowda, Korey Smith and Bobby Reid all combining, however Smith’s cross was easily dealt with by the visitor’s goalkeeper Chris Maxwell.
City never really kicked on from that point and they were finding space hard to come by, with Preston’s high press and shape stopping the team in red playing in between the lines. So city reacted by going long to Djuric a little too frequently, a point alluded to in a post-match interview by Lee Johnson. With Reid looking to play just in the pocket in front of the target man, there was no second runner getting onto or anticipating any of Djuric’s flick ons.
City had a huge chance to break the deadlock just on the half hour mark when Aden Flint fired a shot towards goal following a scramble only for it to hit Preston defender Ben Davies flush in the face. The danger was cleared. There were big appeals for a penalty around Ashton Gate, the crowd thinking it had hit Davies arm, however replays on the screens proved this to be unfounded.
The visitors took the lead just before half time when Jordan Hugill, who was an impressive runner and physical presence all night, took a strike at goal which was blocked by Nathan Baker, only for the ball to fall to Paul Gallagher, who seemed to wrong foot Frank Fielding in the City goal with his finish.
Clearly unimpressed by matters in the first 45 minutes, Johnson made two changes at the break with Djuric and Paterson making way for Marlon Pack and Niclas Eliasson, bringing a change of shape to the home side, with two wingers on the field.
Preston responded with a tactical change of their own 10 minutes in the second period with striker Stephy Mavididi making way for defensive midfielder Alan Browne. This clearly sent a message that the visitors were content and would look to soak up City’s ever increasing possession and look to counter.
The visitors did not endear themselves to the home faithful with some gamesmanship in respect of delays on throw ins, free kicks and the odd injury. Referee Darren Bond, who should have stamped his authority on this early, but his failing to do so therefore gave Preston carte blanche to continue their game plan.
The home side had a great chance on the hour mark when Eliasson’s in swinging corner from the right was met by the head of Baker, only to see it cleared off the line. There was a sense that this wasn’t going to be City’s night.
City’s third and final change saw Cauley Woodrow brought into the fray for Joe Bryan, who seemed to be not firing on all cylinders, possibly because of a heavy knock he took early in the second half.
Referee Bond then gave his most bizarre decision of the evening, and there were a few, when Calum Woods should have been shown a second yellow card after scything down the impressive Eliasson who was giving him a torrid time. Whilst a free kick was awarded to City, the lack of a second caution was baffling considering some of Bond’s bookings earlier in the game.
City’s fate was effectively sealed twenty minutes from time with a textbook counter attacking goal when O’Dowda, who was now playing in a left wing back role, was tackled deep into Preston’s half and the visitors duly exploited the space he had left behind in a sweeping move. Hugill played in Tom Barkhuizen down the right who crossed for former City loanee Callum Robinson, on as an early substitute, to steer the ball into the corner of the net, after getting behind Korey Smith.
To City’s credit, they never threw the towel in and had chances to pull off a miraculous draw when Reid smashed straight at Maxwell from about 5 yards out. A calmer head was required.
Despite not getting the grandstand finish,city did grab a consolation three minutes into injury time when Woodrow turned in the box to hit a decent strike, which was parried into the roof of the net by Maxwell.
That was that and City’s wretched nine match run without a victory against Preston continued.
Overall, a frustrating night and not one where City were anywhere near their best, so rather than supporters pressing the panic button, it should be put down to a poor night at the office, after all this was only City’s third defeat in 22 matches in a hugely competitive league. Credit must also be given to the visitors for the way they set themselves up.
The most concerning issue was this is the third time at Ashton Gate this season, following Millwall and Burton’s exploits, that the Robins have lacked a creative edge in the middle of the park to open up a team set up to not get beat, so it is hoped the home form will not scupper what could potentially be a great campaign.