Bristol City host Barnsley in what is shaping up to be a vital game for them as they look to arrest their recent slide and get their campaign back on track ahead of appointing a new permanent manager.
It has been a turbulent last few weeks for the Robins on the field with performances and results having nosedived as well as their position in the Championship table. The losing run was extended to six successive matches in midweek with the 2-0 loss against promotion-chasing Reading and that was enough for the club to finally make the decision to part ways with Dean Holden.
Despite the awful run of form that the Robins have been on over the last few weeks, they head into the game only three points adrift of their opponents who currently sit in 10th place in the table. A win here could help to restore confidence amongst the players and provide an easier task for the next permanent manager to walk into upon his arrival at Ashton Gate.
There will have been a lot of soul searching around the club and amongst the players over the last few days, and they will now have the chance to put some things right out on the field against an in-form Barnsley side.
Here, we take a look at the dilemmas that Bristol City are facing ahead of the game…
How to re-find some form in the final third
One of Bristol City’s major failings over the last few weeks has been their inability to pose enough of a threat in the final third. In their last six matches in all competitions, the Robins have failed to score in five and managed just two in that period both of which came in the 3-2 defeat at Brentford at the start of the month.
The Robins could muster just one attempt on target against Reading in midweek, which continues a worrying pattern after they had just one effort on target in the 6-0 drubbing at Watford and in the defeat at home to Cardiff City. It is therefore vital that Bristol City manage to start creating better quality chances in the final third starting with the visit of Barnsley.
Barnsley’s defence is far from impenetrable, with the Tykes having shipped 35 league goals so far this term which is the most of any top half side. Therefore Bristol City need to view this game as a chance for them to start firing again in the final third. They need to start getting more from the likes of new signing Henri Lansbury and Jamie Paterson if they are to provide more chances to the forwards.
Finding the right formation and set up
Another major issue for the Robins over the last few weeks has been the lack of a settled formation and tactical blueprint. In Holden’s final few matches in charge he experimented with different shapes to try and get the team going, using a 4-4-2 in the defeat at Derby, 4-3-3 at Brentford and a 3-5-2 against both Watford and Reading.
Constantly changing the shape of the side can not be helpful for the players, and it was a sign that things were potentially getting away from Holden in the sense that he no longer had a settled plan for the best formation to get the best out of the team. His departure now presents a chance for Bristol City to get a clear structure in place for the next few matches.
The 3-5-2 used in the last two games has seen them ship eight goals without reply, so it will be interesting to see whether the new temporary coaching team stick with that or decide to make a change. Barnsley are the opposite and have a very settled formation, with three at the back and wing-backs pushed high up the pitch. It is vital therefore that they get their set upright.
How to tighten things up defensively
Arguably the biggest issue that the Robins have faced in the last few weeks has been the porousness of their defence. Bristol City have shipped 14 goals in their last five Championship matches, and eight alone in their last two. That has seen their total of goals conceded this term go up to 41, the fourth-worst defensive record in the league.
Bristol City need to find a way to tighten things up at the back, and they need to show a little more effort off the ball than they have done in the last couple of games in particular. Barnsley are the sort of side that will punish mistakes and will take advantage when teams go to sleep off the ball with them having players capable of making late runs into the box and getting on the scoresheet.
The Robins need to start to show more resolve at the back to provide a platform for a new manager to build from. This represents a chance for them to start to do that against Barnsley, and if they can keep a clean sheet it would help to restore a lot of confidence.