Three wins in a row at Ashton Gate.BCFC
Harlee Dean’s second-half goal proved the difference on a day when Blues could have scored more against play-off chasing Bristol City.
Traditionally a happy away day, the victory was our second on the road to the Robins this calendar year and came courtesy of a well-executed game plan in which the shackles came off after the interval.
Blues starting XI represented a quintet of changes from the side that played Barnsley on Tuesday night. George Friend came in at left-back as Aitor Karanka reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Maikel Kieftenbeld, Jon Toral, Ivan Sunjic and Jeremie Bela all featuring from the off.
And it was the latter who launched our first attack from a free-kick in the opening two minutes. But after the set piece was won in the penalty box by Marc Roberts, the referee halted Blues’ efforts by pulling up play for an offensive foul in the middle.
It was again the Angolan striving to give the visitors the lead after 15 minutes, although the quality of his smart turn was not matched by the wayward shot that followed. At the other end the Blues backline were forced into action for the first time as skipper Harlee Dean twice blocked Bristol City shots. First standing his ground he denied Adam Nagy, before leading his teammates to charge down Tommy Rowe’s drive.
However, it was Karanka’s men who were making the most of the early running and could have taken the lead had a green shirt been at the far post to meet Sanchez’s inviting cross. Moments later Scott Hogan appeared in behind until the assistant referee raised his flag.
These close shaves appeared to liven Dean Holden’s men with Callum O’Dowda soon finding himself in front of goal with just Neil Etheridge to beat, but his tame attempt was smothered by the summer signing as the clock neared 30 minutes played.
The remainder of the half, including the solitary additional minute, was largely contested in the middle of the park. Nonetheless, there was plenty of invention as Friend looked to join in from the back and Jon Toral’s influence grew in the number ten role.
Half-time: Bristol City 0 Blues 0
In stark contrast, the passage of play immediately after the restart was contested in the Robins’ attacking third, and they thought they had broken the deadlock when Tomas Kalas met Chris Brunt’s corner. That was until Maxime Colin showed his natural defensive instinct to clear the ball from under his own crossbar.
This intervention even launched a Blues counter attack, and whilst Sanchez was unfortunate to be crowded out on that occasion, he came back just minutes later to force a corner. From the resulting set-piece Blues felt they should have had a penalty when Robert’s header appeared to be blocked by Kalas’ trailing arm, instead, despite appeals from the away side, referee John Brooks played on.
The official then cautioned both Colin and Toral in the space of 60 seconds, but Blues retained their composure as they continued their pursuit of the opener with Bela stinging the palms of Dan Bentley.
They went even closer shortly after when the keeper was beaten as Sanchez’s low shot rattled the post, before Bentley was at full stretch to turn Sunjic’s curler behind.
With Blues in the ascendency it seemed a goal was coming and Karanka introduced Alen Halilović for his debut, freshening the attacking options after Toral took a kick on the back of his leg. Immediately lively, the Croatian set about pestering opposition defenders and took his first shot after jinking inside, showing a taste of his natural ability.
And the dominant second-half performance was finally rewarded ten minutes from time. For all of Blues forward talent on the field, it was centre-back Dean who broke the deadlock. Rising highest he powered Bela’s inswinging corner into the net, sparking wild celebrations in front of a stand that would usually be packed with Bluenoses.
Inevitably, the late goal sparked an assault on Blues’ box from the hosts, but Etheridge was not significantly tested as Karanka’s side claimed their second away win of the season.
Bristol City (4-3-3): Daniel Bentley, Adrian Mariappa, Zak Vyner, Tomas Kalas (captain), Tommy Rowe (Jay Dasilva 97), Chris Brunt (Tyreeq Bakinson 64), Callum O’Dowda, Adam Nagy (Taylor Moore 87), Antoine Semenyo, Nahki Wells (Jack Hunt 78), Chris Martin (Famara Diedhiou 78).
Substitutes not used: Max O’Leary, Opi Edwards, Han Noah Massengo, Sam Bell.
Blues (4-2-3-1): Neil Etheridge, Maxime Colin, Marc Roberts, Harlee Dean (captain), George Friend, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Jon Toral (Alen Halilović 72), Ivan Sunjic, Ivan Sanchez, Jeremie Bela, Scott Hogan (Lukas Jutkiewicz 81).
Substitutes not used: Andrés Prieto, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Kristian Pedersen, Mikel San José, Gary Gardner, Jonathan Leko.
Booking: Colin (59), Toral, (60).
Referee: John Brooks