There can be no denying that Saturday’s 6-0 defeat at the hands of Watford is the lowest point in Dean Holden’s tenure.
The Robins were embarrassed by their hosts at Vicarage Road on the weekend and have now lost five on the bounce in all competitions and won just three of their last 13 Championship games.
That run has seen them slide down the league table and has some fans concerned about relegation, nevermind the fact that their play-off hopes look slim.
After what was surely the worst defeat of the City management boss’ career, we’ve outlined the serious dilemmas facing Holden…
Whether to persist with Ryley Towler at left-back
With Jay Dasilva, Tommy Rowe, Cam Pring, George Nurse, and Steven Sessegnon still injured, the left-side of defence has become a serious issue for Holden.
Brentford and Cardiff City exploited that flank when Adrian Mariappa was crowbarred into the role but 18-year-old Ryley Towler showed he could be a short-term answer in the FA Cup clash against Sheffield United last week.
However, the teenager, who is a centre-back by trade, was exposed by Ismaila Sarr and others in the heavy defeat to Watford.
Holden now faces the difficult dilemma of deciding whether it is right, both for his squad and the player himself, to persist with Towler in that role.
The ongoing injury crisis
The problem at left-back is part of a bigger issue at City, who have the worst injury record in the Championship this season.
The fitness issues in their squad have bordered on the downright absurd and with the Robins at the lowest point they’ve been at all season, their manager faces an ongoing dilemma with how to best use his depleted squad.
Holden must try and walk the thin line of getting the most out of his players while ensuring no one is overexerted, which is a dangerous and frustrating game.
Lack of attacking threat
City may be missing a host of first-team players but their problems run deeper than that and there can be no ignoring that they’ve scored just twice in their last five games.
The likes of Antoine Semenyo, Famara Diedhiou, Nahki Wells, Jamie Paterson, Kasey Palmer, and Henri Lansbury are all available to Holden but he has struggled to find a way to turn that into goalscoring opportunities.
The fact that they’ve had a combined expected goals (xG) rating of 6.54 in their 10 games since the start of 2021 (Wyscout) – which is lower than the combined xG of their opponents in their last three games – highlights just how bad things have got.
How to turn around squad morale ahead of a difficult run
City’s recent run of dreadful form and their hammering at the hands of Watford may well have seriously dented the squad’s morale and confidence.
That is the last thing Holden needs, as his side face three of the top eight and a Barnsley side that just beat Brentford in their next four games.
The Robins boss needs to find a way to ensure his players are in the right place mentally ahead of a difficult run of games.