4th February 2017: Bristol City 1 Rotherham United 0

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Terrible, terrible stuff at Ashton Gate, watching City achieve their first win since December 3rd, after watching City get their first point since December 3rd on Tuesday. Both sides befoul the Championship but at least Rotherham look to have a team ethic, City are just bitty and ponderous with no cohesion.

The highlight of the first half was when the ball went to one side of the pitch and no player seemed to want to go and get it. My guess is that ballboys are under strict orders to stay off of the field of play but sometimes they have to use their initiative. This ballboy got up, kicked the ball back to the keeper accurately but slipped on his backside at the same time and got greeted with the kind of cheer that happens when someone drops a glass in a pub. He seemed to take it all with a sanguine smile, though. I had a flashback to a previous time, when City were once pushing in a game for an equaliser or a winner. A ballboy mistakenly kicked it back for a goal kick. He wanted to keep the game going, I’m sure, but he made the wrong decision and he had 12,000 people all scream at him in once voice: “It’s a corner!!!”. I think he turned away in shock and that there were tears. There might have been a collective reflection from the City fans, that they’d all just verbally abused some small child, but time was a-wasting and it couldn’t be taken back. Poor little guy.

Saturday saw the first real unambiguous sign of revolt against the manager of this team in freefall when, with about half an hour to go, boss Lee Johnson made a treble substitution and took off the excellent Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham after he’d just gone close and always looked dangerous. Isolated booing after another defeat and/or terrible performance doesn’t count, for me, that’s just miscellaneous grumbling. This was the first time when some heavy “J’accuse…!” was clearly laid on the manager, Lee Johnson. Some Emirates Stadium-style: “You don’t know what you’re doing!” rang around the ground for all to hear. Johnson lost the crowd about a month ago, I think, and the discontent was palpable and clear at Tuesday’s night game. Then, on both occasions when Bristol City went behind to Sheffield Wednesday, you could sense the annoyance and nausea: people have come to the end of their rope; they can only take so much farce in their lives. However, it seemed to do the trick yesterday. Sharing the credit between Johnson’s substitutions and the crowd’s verbal rocket up the team’s collective bumhole, it seemed to have the desired effect and the pace and movement, so lacking up to then, seemed to finally manifest itself….of a fashion….only by comparison.

Within this treble substitution (I liked it: a manager trying to make something happen, not just hope for something to happen) one other player to leave the field was Lee Tomlin. A strange character is Lee. He looks so ungainly; he’s the kind of player who opposing fans tend to mock as ‘non-thin’ and born out of wedlock but he’s got an aptitude for thinking laterally; for thinking, as the Americans say, ‘outside the box’. At his best, he can be like the walking footballing version of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s ‘Oblique Strategies’: someone who can successfully slice through opposition defences with some creative thinking. As such, he’s a player that I’d always strive to find a place for in the Bristol City starting eleven.

Manager, Lee Johnson, had been taking to leaving him out of the first team and starting Tomlin on the substitutes’ bench. This course of events has been within our current horrific run of defeats so, looking for someone around whom a figurative burning tire of shame could be necklaced, fans fought the dropping of Tomlin, eventually seeming to gain a victory by Tomlin’s return on Tuesday against Sheffield Wednesday. Granted, Tomlin played extremely well on that night and a battling 2-2 draw resulted. When taken off towards the end, he milked his applause from all sides of the ground, almost thanking people for their support. All well and good but Tomlin’s showing on Saturday was a retro-active testimonial to the manager’s previous predeliction for leaving him out.

He was all over the shop: misplaced passes, running that was off the pace, weak positioning, getting on the ball and you realising that someone hadn’t given him the day off after all, that he was indeed playing today. I attended the game with someone other than my normal partner-in-leaden-disappointment. They said that Tomlin looked like a pub player, with his physique and his terrible play, and I couldn’t disagree. Tomlin was a real fiasco; a Donald Trump-style: “Big, fat mess!” yesterday. With Lee Johnson remaining under pressure and Tomlin’s rubbishness supporting Johnson’s perspective on Tomlin sometimes having feet of clay, I wouldn’t have minded if Johnson had taken to walking in front of the fans, with arms outstretched, in that way that a man invites someone into a fist fight: “Lee Tomlin, eh? He was terrible, no? What now, you geniuses? What now?” to argue that perhaps he does know what he’s doing; that Tomlin can be a liability; so get out of my grill and let me do my job.

City had to win and they finally did. You could feel the crowd rearing back as we still couldn’t put Rotherham away and were still being held at 0-0, probably thinking: “Gah! If we can’t beat Rotherham at home, who can we beat?” (although Rotherham themselves might have felt aggrieved at losing to a rabble like us.). A shot was saved; the rebound found Milan Djuric’s dome and thankfully there was eventually three points, although Blackburn Rovers won too so we’re running to stand still in the relegation race. City didn’t play too badly against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday but on Saturday it was a pretty piteous spectacle, all told. I’d have thought that few would have been fooled by the squeezing out (like a particularly egregious turd) of a 1-0 home victory against bottom-of-the-league Rotherham United, with us now having taken our first four points this week for almost two months, but some feedback suggests the opposite, that some fans are back onside. We’ll see. Fans are so damn fickle.


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