Are Bristol City the surprise package in the Championship promotion race?

The last time Bristol City rubbed shoulders with the English football elite, you have to go all the way back to the 1979/80 season in the old First Division. A four-year stay in the top flight came to an end and was followed by one of the swiftest of falls from grace imaginable, as the club plummeted two consecutive relegations and nose-dived all the way down to the old Fourth Division.

Long-suffering Robins fans have since had more than their fair share of ups and downs, almost like the football equivalent of snakes and ladders. A decade ago there was a glimmer of hope with the club back in the second tier and pushing for promotion, but after reaching the play-off final, the dreams of a top-flight return were dashed by a single goal by Dean Windass for Hull City.

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Ten years later and heading into the 2017/18 campaign on the back of two seasons struggling to remain in the Championship, few but the most optimistic Bristol City fans would have expected anything more than another tough battle to stay afloat. However, after a mixed start with victory against Barnsley followed by defeat at Birmingham City, everything has changed.

Lee Johnson has since managed to guide his team through a hugely impressive run of nine games without defeat, and with Championship betting odds reduced to 5/1 for Bristol City achieving promotion, even the bookmakers can sense that something positive is afoot at Ashton Gate. Not only that, Johnson’s side have knocked two Premier League teams out of the EFL Cup in the midst of this run of form.

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The team has made Ashton Gate seem like an impenetrable fortress and only Aston Villa, Millwall and Burton Albion have escaped with a point, while Bristol City have won every other league encounter on home turf. But perhaps the strongest indication that this could be a season to savour, has been the steady and consistent gaining of points away from home.

Since the defeat at St Andrew’s against Birmingham in mid-August, Johnson’s side are unbeaten on the road and have achieved this at some very difficult venues. Doing so away at Wolves or Reading is impressive enough, but after claiming three points and victory with a superb display at Portman Road against Ipswich Town at the end of September, there’s genuine a confidence that this could be a very special season.

Part of the reason Bristol City are looking so good is their solidity and resolve as a team, making them extremely difficult to beat. Attacking prowess is the other key element, with Bobby Reid on seven goals and Famara Diedhiou on five, making them the most potent attacking partnership in the Championship. Of course, neither would be able to do that without a reliable supply of chances, with Jamie Paterson topping the charts with five assists already.

Consistency is key at any level of the game and over recent weeks the form of Bristol City has been genuinely majestic to behold. The challenge now is to keep building on what they’ve already achieved and maybe, just maybe, secure one of the two automatic promotion spots come the end of the season.

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