Bristol City were just seconds away from climbing off the foot of the Championship prior to the international break but their resistance buckled in stoppage-time against second-from-bottom MK Dons, forcing Steve Cotterill to acknowledge a mental block among his ranks regarding the search for an elusive first home win.
The Robins have played five games at Ashton Gate but have rarely imposed themselves or been in command for too long. Behind at the interval in three of their first four home outings, they spent most of the second period camped in their own half against Karl Robinson’s men looking to protect a slender lead, the Dons eventually capitalising on an open invitation to attack.
Confidence seems to be diminishing and it largely stems from a lack of variety to their play. City have made the step up in class with a squad severely lacking in Championship pedigree and while the division presents an altogether more demanding set of challenges against more fluid and tactically-astute opposition, they themselves have only become more predictable.
So dominant were the Robins in League One last season, it was inevitable Cotterill would persist with the 5-3-2 blueprint because a change of formation would have made him an easy target for criticism had they started poorly. In hindsight, though, he must realise that continuity in this instance was a mistake.
With a hefty back catalogue of footage available for video analysis, the likes of Uwe Rosler, Sean Dyche and Steve Clarke have all discovered the necessary clues to orchestrate well-rehearsed smash-and-grab raids with Leeds, Burnley and Reading establishing 2-0 leads in a combined time of a 105 minutes, although the getaway didn’t quite go according to plan for Rosler.
When it comes to setting a team up on the road, Dougie Freedman belongs in the same company and Cotterill would merely be subjecting himself to a more refined version of what’s frustrated him already if he continues with 5-3-2 here, so we should probably brace ourselves for a switch.
Reports linking the Robins with Norwich winger Elliot Bennett on loan certainly hints at a shift away from full backs being relied upon for width and the international break is obviously an ideal time to put the necessary groundwork in. Either way, Freedman can still come up with the right answers, if only less emphatically than others previously.
To reiterate some old stats from a previous live match preview, the Scot has landed nine 1-0 away wins (best odds 12-1) in 61 attempts when he’s had the summer to drill his players in road-game philosophy and 11 times he has triumphed by the draw/away half-time/full-time (best odds 7-1) method. Those are solid numbers, indicating unquestionable value on the respective markets here, and both bets deserve to be trusted again.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.