BACK IN BUSI­NESS

Sam Bal­dock’s found his top form again at Bris­tol City

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Jamie Holt

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.

Chal­lenge

“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.”

Pro­lific

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.”

PIC­TURE: Pin­na­cle

HAM­MER TIME: Sam Bal­dock in a rare West Ham ap­pear­ance LEADING BY EX­AM­PLE: Sam Bal­dock has been in fine form for Bris­tol City

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