BACK IN BUSINESS
Sam Baldock’s found his top form again at Bristol City
IT’S BEEN a tale of two very different seasons for Bristol City and Sam Baldock – while the Robins’ wings have been clipped the striker has soared to new heights.
But City’s 25-year-old talisman never expected to be battling against the League One drop, having signed from West Ham on the premise of a Premier League challenge in 2012.
That Bristol City find themselves with nothing much to play for ahead of their last game at Crawley on Saturday owes much to Baldock’s remarkable form in front of goal – he headed into this weekend top of the League One scoring charts on 24.
But at one stage it looked like successive relegations were on the cards for a player that cost £1m and a side that, only 20 months ago, topped the Championship.
The dark clouds appear to be lifting at Ashton Gate, but Baldock can’t help but wonder what might have been.
“That’s what I bought into when I joined [to win promotion to the Premier League], there was no reason for me to leave West Ham, I didn’t have to leave, I was just told I wasn’t going to get much game time,” said Baldock.
“I wasn’t expecting to struggle in the bottom half of the Championship and then in League One, it’s been disappointing.
“But I’ve really enjoyed this season, the second half of the season especially, we’ve showed we can do well and it bodes well for next season.
“I don’t see why we can’t challenge for promotion. The luck hasn’t really been with us this season, but if it is next season I think we can go up if we believe in ourselves.”
The Robins were second-from-bottom in League One and low on confidence when Steve Cotterill succeeded Sean O’Driscoll as boss in early December.
But the former Cheltenham manager has engineered an about-turn in fortunes and has Baldock finally looking up rather than down.
“It’s hard to ignore it when you look at the table and there’s no one below you, your belief can only get you so far because you have to start getting points on the board,” added Baldock.
“But Steve came in and he realised we were too good to be where we were, as a group of players this lot should be up challenging at the top of this division or even higher.
“He’s got us challenging in the top half of the table for the first time in the season.”
Baldock, who made his name at MK Dons before moving to West Ham in 2011, is currently enjoying the most prolific spell of his career.
Despite the inevitable speculation linking Baldock with a move away from the Robins, Cotterill is adamant the club don’t need to sell their prized asset in order to balance the books.
It would come as no surprise if a Championship club do take a punt on the former England under-20 international this summer – and City have a history of selling their best strikers.
But Baldock – who said he had heard of no interest from other clubs – insists the Robins’ rise under Cotterill has given him a new lease of life.
“I’ve got another season left on my contract. I’ve heard of no interest from other clubs and I’ve enjoyed my time here this season,” he continued.
“Every striker wants to score goals, and finishing top of the charts would be great, but the season isn’t over yet.
“It’s probably the best return I’ve had over the season. I’ve had times where I’ve scored in quite a few games, but never for this long, it’s been great.”
HAMMER TIME: Sam Baldock in a rare West Ham appearance LEADING BY EXAMPLE: Sam Baldock has been in fine form for Bristol City