Bristol City 0 Newcastle 1 – Saturday 20 August 3pm
So, Bristol City, it is best part of twenty years since I had last been here, having first visited in about 1978 when a very early morning departing Armstrong Galley coach bought me here for one of my first ever away games and a 2-0 defeat…
A 5-0 league cup win some 20 years ago being my last visit, the 2-2 (2009/10) promotion season draw I watched from the comfort of the pub!
The Ashton Gate stadium however is unrecognisable from what I remember, as impressive developments have turned it into one of the more attractive grounds both inside and out, unlike the IKEA type flat pack offerings at places like Stoke, Middlesbrough and Derby.
Anyway, I am digressing. I decided to make a long weekend of this one, Friday was spent at York races doing my best to lose varying amounts of cash while drinking tasteless beer at £4.30 a pint, the plan being to leave early Saturday for Bristol from York and catch up with a Bristol City supporting mate before the game.
The plan went very well if you can discount my missus giving me serious gip because her shoe broke while at York races, the taxi driver from the hotel to the pub not knowing his way around Bristol, and the missus giving me further gip because of the weather.
We had three or four pre-match beers in the Luckwell Hotel, about 10 minute walk from Ashton Gate, my Bristol City supporting mate chose this place as the bars in closer proximity tend to be home fans only. Now this seriously riles me, every pub in Newcastle welcomes visiting fans with open arms (except Sunderland and maybe Boro) so I find this policy both dated and irritating and to me it’s a throwback to the 80s.
Anyway, the Luckwell Hotel welcomed both home and away fans and served decent beer, the group of BCFC fans were quietly confident and expected a win, and whilst I was outwardly displaying bravado and confidently predicting a win, inside I was thinking I would actually take a draw.
Once inside the ground there was a cracking atmosphere amongst the 2500 visiting fans, we were in what used to be the home end and its tight roof ensured the acoustics sounded impressively loud.
The team somewhat surprised me as Perez, Shelvey and Dummett were all left out, while Janmaat disappeared from the match day 18, with Clark shifting to left back, and Colback coming in with the returning club captain Jamie Lascelles. Diame also returned to the starting 11, Rafa seems to have adopted a horses for courses policy.
The match kicked off and Newcastle were straight on the front foot, attacking down both flanks with intent and pace, Matt Ritchie and Gouffran both finding success against their over stretched defence.
We went close on a couple of occasions before a swift break resulted in an inch perfect pass from Diame to Gayle, and while there was still a bit to do the result was a top class finish right in front of my nose – bedlam!
Some more good stuff was played but then we seemed to go into our shell for a while, this coincided with Diame seemingly running out of steam, he is a very good player for sure and once his stamina improves we will only get better.
The half-time opinion seemed to be that we had weathered the storm and that would dominate again, however you have to give Bristol City credit as they upped the tempo and we spent most of the second half on the back foot, albeit with relative ease.
This would however seem like I am being negative, but I am not, as not one clear cut chance fell their way. Sure a couple of half chances saw them go close but nothing of serous worry was created, though the Cleveland based official did his best to help with an equaliser by giving the home side copious amounts of free-kicks and allowing several fouls to go unpunished.
Jack Colback was the victim of a particularly nasty foul that was both ignored and unpunished, however despite the whistler’s attempts we held on comfortably and went close again ourselves through Dwight Gayle and Rolando Aarons. I should mention the ref also found 5 minutes of injury time despite there having been only one stoppage.
My man of the match was probably the returning Jamie Lascelles, at the end of last season he showed what he is capable of, and despite a slow start this season he showed again today that he is organised and a definite leader.
Has our stock fallen so much that Gouffran was only just behind him? He ran up and down the left hand side showing intent going forward and tackling back hard when needs be, maybe this is his level….who knows!
There were also good performances from little Vurn at right back, and of course Mbemba again showed why he is clearly of premiership quality, Ciaran Clark also did well at left-back while the midfield was solid – as I said before it is horses for courses.
Dwight Gayle scored his 4th of the season and while I would not suggest he is another Andy Cole, he clearly knows where the onion bag is and if he keeps up this goals per game ratio it will be very impressive. We have the returning Mitrovic coming back soon who should ensure that our forward line is able to adopt a more physical approach when needs be.
A quick word on Matt Ritchie. I like this lad, he attacks, he chases back, he just wants to be involved in everything and whilst we defended well in the second half he ensured there was an outlet. He is quick, skilful and you can just tell he loves it here, I like the cut of his gib, I am sure if he ever got injured he would be leading the vocals in the away end.
There has to be a negative however, and in my eyes it is the goalkeeper, we keep a clean sheet and we won away from home, so why, some will ask?
Well Matz Sels just does not inspire confidence, a couple of times he flapped at crosses or tried to punch when a catch was easier, at one point Jack Colback could clearly be heard telling him to ‘catch the f***ing thing’. However, if Rafa trusts him then so do I because I absolutely trust Rafa!
At full-time, as the players tunnel was right in front of us the fans were able to give Rafa and his team the most vociferous of send-offs, Rafa with his broad smile is clearly enjoying the challenge, and while we are some way off being the complete article I believe we will only get stronger.
Disappointingly, after the game a couple of small skirmishes broke out which were dealt with swiftly, and even more disappointing was that I lost my normally good sense of direction which meant we were 10 minutes late getting back to the pub where the Bristol City fans were pretty fair with their opinions. They thought they were the better side and maybe they were – but their lack of clear cut chances tells its own story.
Highlight of post-match though, was the Newcastle fan from Cornwall who was wandering the labyrinth of streets around Ashton Gate looking for his car, it seems it was not just me who had lost his sense of direction – I hope he found it!
Once the streets cleared of traffic our good friends from Bristol dropped us in the heart of the city centre, where despite the missus having colours on, the pubs were warm and welcoming. Eventually getting back to the hotel about 9.30ish, where we had more drinks with another couple from Newcastle who had been to the game.
Their opinion seemed to match ours; concerns about the goalkeeper, but a feeling we will improve with each performance, here is hoping.
Overall a very satisfying day and I fully expect us to win easily on Tuesday against Cheltenham, before a quite big one this coming Saturday against what has in recent years become a bit of a bogey side for us. Namely Brighton, who coincidentally, if you have a second team they are mine, but they need to be put to the sword and I fully expect them to be.
I say again that this team will only get better as time progresses and if by end of September we are in the top three or four, then I am confident the pre-season predictions of winning this league will come true.
Comprehensive win tomorrow (Cheltenham) will set us up nicely for Saturday, enjoy!
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Bristol City 0 Newcastle 1
Newcastle: Gayle 19
Possession was Bristol City 56% Newcastle 44%
Total shots were Bristol City 17 Newcastle 8
Shots on target were Bristol City 2 Newcastle 1
Corners were Bristol City 6 Newcastle 3
Team: Sels, Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Clark, Hayden (Shelvey 85), Colback, Ritchie, Diame (Perez 63), Gouffran, Gayle (Aarons 88)
Unused Subs: Darlow, Sterry, Hanley, Dummett
Referee: Tony Harrington
Crowd: 22,512 (2,501 Newcastle)