It has been nothing short of astonishing what League One champions Bristol City have achieved with a small squad and the first manager to win promotion this season, Cotterill, deserves the credit.
They started at the bottom – but now Bristol City have reached the top. In less than 18 months, they have gone from battling relegation to winning a double of the JPT Trophy and League One title with just a thin squad of 20 players.
City dominated the League One Team of the Year with FIVE players – including goalkeeper Frank Fielding, defenders Aden Flint and Joe Bryan, and midfielders Luke Freeman and Korey Smith. It’s been a phenomenal season from them. The party hasn’t stopped since the first game back in August when the Robins beat Sheffield United 2-1 and then spent the entire season in the top two of the table.
They have gone from strength to strength under manager Steve Cotterill, who joined in 2013 after being out of management since leaving Nottingham Forest the previous year. City were languishing in 23rd spot in the table following the departure of Sean O’Driscoll. The critics who questioned Cotterill’s appointment because of troubled spells at Portsmouth and Nottingham Forest must be eating their words now.
City vice-chairman Jon Lansdown was always confident the 50-year-old manager would bring success to the club. His faith in Cotterill has been rewarded. Preparation and surrounding himself with trusted colleagues was key: he brought in his own backroom staff, introduced new methods and did his homework. He surpassed expectations, finishing 12th and ensuring safety for the Robins in his first season in charge.
But pre-season was the real game-changer as Cotterill brought in eight signings – Aaron Wilbraham, James Tavernier, Smith, Mark Little, Freeman, Wade Elliott, Luke Ayling, Kieran Agard and Fulham loan striker Matt Smith – who were all about to play their individual part in City’s season. The City boss became the first manager to gain his team this season – ending a 60-year wait for a title – after hitting Bradford for six last month.
The team chemistry couldn’t have been stronger this campaign as Cotterill took extra precautions to keep his men close-knit. Tricky away days were surmounted by travelling early on Thursday nights to make sure everyone was well-rested for the Saturday games. But if a Tuesday night game was also looming it was straight to the next destination and no pit stops. Cotterill put an alcohol ban in place before they clinched the title in their 0-0 draw with Coventry.
Money alone won’t build a successful team – and you only have to look at Manchester City for evidence of that. It may have cost owner Steve Lansdown approximately £50million to make this such a successful season, but it takes a good manager like Cotterill to put those elements in place and make them work.
Yet the Robins have managed big achievements on a small quantity of squad members and played some outstanding football, with goals from Flint, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Wilbraham. JET memorably hit a double against Doncaster to secure City an FA Cup clash with Premier League opponents West Ham. And let’s not forget those world-class saves from keeper Fielding – the goalie pulled off a wonder save to earn City a vital draw as Rochdale flung everything at them in a league match last year.
City will be able to carry their success from League One into the Championship next season. Under Cotterill’s management, the best is still yet to come . . .
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