Bristol City manager Nigel Pearson has suggested that he decided to play Max O’Leary ahead of Daniel Bentley in the Robins’ 4-1 defeat at Millwall because he wanted to assess the 24-year-old’s abilities.
Bentley was a notable absentee from the starting line-up for the Millwall game. It was an omission that could have perhaps raised some eyebrows considering that the keeper has been linked with a potential move away from Ashton Gate. Southampton are reportedly interested in making a potential move for him in the summer transfer window.
O’Leary was brought into the side for his first third Championship appearance of the campaign, but he could do little to prevent the Robins from falling to another defeat at Millwall. The 24-year-old did at least manage to make seven saves, despite shipping four goals, and was able to show some of the qualities he could bring to the side if Pearson decided to hand him more game time.
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Speaking to Bristol Live following the defeat Millwall, Pearson revealed that he decided to rest Bentley because he wanted to assess O’Leary and see what he could bring to the side ahead of next season.
He said: “Absolutely, yes (just taking a chance to look at another player). Dan’s had a really good season, he’s been one of our best players this year. Max is a very good goalkeeper himself. I don’t think you could fault him for anything today. I thought his distribution was good as well, really good communicator.
“The goalkeeping position is no different to any other situation in terms of if I think I’m going to have a look at people to see how it bodes for the future, I’ll do it. It was a bit unfortunate for Max today to be on the receiving end of what happened but that’s part and parcel of it, I’m afraid.”
You can understand Pearson wanting to use the last two games of the season to assess some of the options he has available to him in the squad, considering that he now knows he will be the one to take charge of the club next season. However, it was a decision that did not really help Bristol City get a positive result out of the game and O’Leary ended up shipping four goals.
It will have reminded Bristol City perhaps of the importance of keeping hold of Bentley now amid the speculation surrounding his potential future. O’Leary has a lot of qualities, but he might lack the leadership abilities to play in front of a defence that has been struggling for the Robins throughout the second half of the campaign.
Pearson has some major decisions to make in the next few weeks and months over Bristol City’s squad and he will need to identify which positions he needs to add to in the summer. It will remain to be seen whether O’Leary has done enough to convince him he has a role to play in the squad for next term.