BORO SUFFER YET ANOTHER REALITY CHECK
IF the fans who turned up at the Riverside Stadium expected to see further evidence of a team heading for automatic promotion this season then Bristol City played their part in leaving them disappointed.
For while City have their own ambitious plans to make an impact at the top end of the Championship over the next nine months, few would have envisaged Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough side slipping up in their second home game of the campaign.
Steve Cotterill, the Robins boss, enjoyed overseeing Bristol City’s first win of the season, and the manner in which they achieved it should hearten him and the boardroom members at Ashton Gate.
From the moment wing-back Joe Bryan curled in the lovely winner after just eight minutes they were organised and determined to keep out a Middlesbrough side the bookmakers have fancied for the title this time around.
Cotterill said: “If they don’t get automatic promotion, Middlesbrough, they will certainly get top six. I’m sure of that. That’s why it is so pleasing for us that so many of our players stood up so well.
“I think it will surprise a few Championship teams by how well we did against Middlesbrough but I always felt, and I said it beforehand, that we were capable of a 1-0 here.
“Championship players are bigger and stronger and we have to adjust to that fact but I’m confident we can.”
He continued: “In the first half we scored one great goal and had two other great chances before half-time. At 3-0 it could have been game over. We deserved this.”
City could actually have been two or three goals up before half-time because they had the best of the chances in the first half.
Bobby Reid somehow blasted over from six yards when he reacted first to the rebound following Dimi Konstantopoulos’ save from Aaron Wilbraham at his near post.
Shortly after that the Greek keeper made an even better stop when he got a hand to a powerful drive from striker Jonathan Kodjia.
Karanka had stunned the Riverside by leaving out in-form Kike, Albert Adomah and Diego Fabbrini and he must have sensed something had to change himself because he introduced the latter for the ineffective Yanic Wildschut after the restart.
That sparked Middlesbrough in to life but they found Bristol City’s Ben Hamer in brilliant form between the posts. He made exceptional saves to deny Cristhian Stuani and Daniel Ayala from close range before then diving low to turn behind Grant Leadbitter’s lovely low shot.
Even the introductions of Adomah and Kike as the second half wore on did not herald the equaliser and ‘Boro – who had Stewart Downing pulling the strings and who had a goal ruled out for an infringement in the box – suffered a first loss of the season.
“We have to try to choose the best 11 and to change the players in the right way between games,” said a frustrated Karanka, whose side have only won one of their opening four league games.
“I always try to put the players on the pitch who I think are the best at the moment and that’s why I made the three changes I made before the start of the game. Some players were tired, some players deserved their chance.
“This is disappointing for us, no doubt about that, because we hoped to have more points on the board at this stage. But Bristol City did not surprise us.We have played two former League One teams now and not beaten either and so we don’t underestimate them.”
FIST PLACE: Bristol City’s Ben Hamer punches the ball away