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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sam Baldock - should we have let him go?

At 5pm last night, Bristol City fans had their last chance to buy a season card.  Precisely one hour later, they announced the sale of their captain, premier striker and last season’s league one golden boot winner, Sam Baldock, to Brighton & Hove Albion.  That’s a fact.

Whether the timing was deliberate – as some suspect – or entirely coincidental, unfortunate and poorly thought-through, is up for some debate.  However there’s little doubt that had this happened a month ago, or even a couple of weeks ago, there may have been some impact on sales.  Equally, Brighton haven’t just accepted a delay to his signing of days or weeks just to suit us, so the chances are it may have all been tied up earlier today some time and the announcement was put back by a few hours.

This timing issue is a huge red herring however. Of more pertinence is whether the right decision has been made to accept a bid and allow Baldock to go.

First of all, the fee. Six bids came and went before something approaching £1.5m (probably including add-ons based on promotion) was offered and, ultimately, accepted. Was this enough? Didn’t Steve Cotterill say he’d only go for £4m? Why is that all we got when Britt Assombalonga was sold for more than £5m?  

All things being equal, as an amount of money, it is hugely significant for a League One club, especially one with aspirations of balancing the books and living sustainably. Yes, for owner Steve Lansdown it’s a mere drop in the ocean, but didn’t we all buy in to the principle of becoming a better-run club, one which can’t refuse this sort of offer for a player, whoever he is, in the last nine months of his contract?

Assombalonga has much more as an all-round player than Baldock and I can see how, in theory, he has far more potential, however harsh that seems on our now-former captain. But critically he had a lengthy period of time on his contract left and that, in this modern world of football finance and player power, is absolutely key.

So was it the right decision to sell?  There will be a groundswell of opinion – wholly understandable – that says we’re mad to accept a relatively small amount of money and risk our promotion chances.  Of course we’d have more of a chance of getting up with him firing in the goals, but there was no guarantee we were going up and the accusations of losing out on serious cash for Nicky Maynard will still resonate around the boardroom.  Equally, there are no guarantees we now won’t go up at the end of the season. How savvy might the decision look if we’re celebrating promotion in May having banked £1.5m in fees and saved around £300,000 in wages?

The question nags though as to whether we could have done more? Could we have dug our heels in and simply refused any offer? Yes, we probably could have eked out a further few thousand pounds but clearly a level had been set that Brighton reached, by people who understand the finances of football far better than me. Also, aside from the points already made as to why we might have accepted, I still don’t believe many fans understand the true level of player power that exists at all levels of the football pyramid.

One major accusation has been that this “proves we have no ambition”. I venture Mr. Lansdown Snr would disagree. What it proves is that whatever clubs try and do, players rule the roost and you can be fairly sure that it played its part this time.  Ask Tottenham or Arsenal about Bale and van Persie. Ask Liverpool or Manchester United about Suarez and Ronaldo. If it happens to them, it can sure as hell happen to us.

Baldock was one of the only senior players to remain following relegation, but you can be sure that if he’d been offered the chance to make the same money at a Championship club 12 months ago, he’d have jumped at it. He needed last season as much as anyone did and his goals have given him this fresh opportunity at the higher level.  If you don’t think he wanted to go, or think this is all the clubs doing, then I’m afraid there’s too much naiveté involved.  He knew about the bids coming before the club did – this much we know for certain – and you can be sure he was asking what the ceiling was, how close Brighton were.

I don’t blame him at all. I’ve had this argument too many times with too many people but still find it bewildering why fans think the player should owe the club something and miss out personally. He’s been offered the chance of playing at a higher level, probably for more money and at a club which appears to be ambitious, well-run and has a great fan-base. Who wouldn’t want to go?

This doesn’t prove we have no ambition. It proves we are a football club trying to run itself as a business and that we understand the impact of keeping a player – a captain – who may have become disillusioned had he felt he was being held back from furthering his career.  The days of the likes of Cloughie clipping a young lad round the ear and telling him to get on with it are long gone.  Some fans won’t like this, some will only see life through blinkered red glasses, but it’s real life and that’s just how these things work.

One of the key questions raised when it was revealed so much money was being spent on Keiron Agard was whether he was going to be Sam’s replacement. The official and unofficial noises coming from the club indicated otherwise. We were told Cotterill wanted four strikers. However, it now seems likely that there must have been strong suspicions further bids were forthcoming and that the bids were getting closer to the level required. It now appears as if that expectation prompted the increased bid we knew was necessary to prise away a Championship striker back to League One, whilst Agard’s seemingly extravagant wage expectations – more than Leeds United could apparently afford – will be more than covered by the departure of Baldock’s still-significant figures from the salary roster.

Ultimately, we will never know how good or bad a decision this was, as no-one can now tell us what May would have brought had we not sold Baldock, perhaps had we not signed Agard. We can speculate and antagonise, but we’ll never really know.

All we can do is wish Sam well – I personally remain uncertain he can hold his own as a free-scoring Championship striker, but he undoubtedly developed last season and if he can continue his improvement then who knows where he can end up.  What he did do was play a major part in keeping us up in the end last year and his popularity with the young players in the squad are testament to the way he knuckled down and played his part as the captain of a squad, once realising he was to spend a season back in league one.

By the way, as a footnote the worst thing we could do right now, in my opinion, is make Aden Flint the new captain, as I’ve seen many fans call for. 

Yes, he perhaps seems ‘the type’ – a Tony Adams/John Terry/Steve Bruce-kinda almost old-school centre-half who’d spill blood, but that doesn’t make him a great leader on its own.

Yes, he’s had a fantastically strong start to the season, but to lumber him with the captaincy would be too much for a player who showed signs of mental fragility last year and is still learning his game.  He spent most of last season struggling and many wouldn’t have had him in the starting XI just three weeks ago. For me it’s got to be Wade Elliott or Korey Smith, I can’t see many other viable options.

The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Bookies Corner: Rochdale v Bristol City

Last week easyodds.com tipster and lifelong Bristol City fan Ross Casey did not hit his best bet, but did point out the value in both teams to score when the Robins hosted Colchester. However, after starting the season with a 41/20 winner, the column is still in profit – here’s hoping he can pluck another winner from the trip to Rochdale.

The Robins remain unbeaten after securing a 0-0 draw on Tuesday night against promotion hopefuls Leyton Orient, but it could have been a maximum of nine points had it not been for a poor refereeing decision which ruled out a Sam Baldock goal. Can City remain unbeaten in what I like to call the Bamberdele Adebola derby? Or will Dale pull off the scalp by beating the favourites for the title? Keep reading below for Ross’ full betting preview…

"The controversially dropped points on Tuesday night have meant that City slipped from the top of the table to third – replaced by League One newcomers Fleetwood Town. City remain favourites to win the league though, their best price has actually shortened from 6/1 to 11/2 with the ever excellent value Marathonbet. This means that we are now the side to beat in League One and matches like this one, against newly promoted Rochdale in the humble surroundings of Spotland, will become even more difficult in my opinion.

Keith Hill’s Rochdale side started their season with three losses in a row – scoring just once in the process, but they sprung to life on Tuesday night hitting Crewe for five in a terrific 5-2 away win. That is sure to breed a lot of confidence going in to this game, and I am sure Steve Cotterill is aware of that! They are still third favourites for the drop however, with best odds of 9/4.

BRISTOL CITY – 29/20 (Bet365)
ROCHDALE – 11/5 (Ladbrokes)
DRAW – 12/5 (Multiple Bookies)

The big change to City this week has been the signing of Kieran Agard from Rotherham. The pacy forward – who can also operate and score from the wing was signed on Thursday after a high profile chase by the club. Landsdown and Cotterill have got their man and now it’s down to the management team to try and fit him in the starting line-up. After a hard fought midweek match, it’s possible that he may start as he will be fresher than some of those players that played two games in a week. He netted 26 goals last season and is a best price of 7/4 to score at Spotland.

Although there was a great deal of frustration about the result on Tuesday night because of the disallowed goal, the big positive in my eyes was the fact that City kept a clean sheet. That is the first of the season and something that the Robins need more of. With the attacking ability of the side at this level, they are more often than not going to net a goal. Therefore if the defence can keep a clean sheet that will guarantee points. A City clean sheet away at Rochdale is a best price of 9/4 with Bet365.

Despite last Tuesday’s 0-0 draw – in which Orient had a game plan and it worked, City usually are involved in ties where both teams score. Rochdale netted five last time out, so you would have to assume that both teams will net in this one. 8/11 is the best price on offer in this market with BetVictor.

In preparation for this match I had all of the statistics ready about Rochdale being a side missing last season’s goal machine Scott Hogan losing games and scoring no goals. Then they went and beat Crewe 5-2 and blew all of that out of the water!

That was an incredible result and one that no one saw coming, but they do concede goals regularly and that is something City can take advantage of. They have conceded seven goals in their four matches this season – with their last two matches going over 2.5 goals. City have had three matches go over 2.5 goals this term – so that could well be a decent bet. Bet365 is the company offering the best odds there, with 19/20 on the table.

Matt Done was the surprising hat-trick hero on Tuesday night netting a trio of strikes. I say it was a surprise because those were his first goals in over two years of first-team football! Funny old game isn’t it, football? He is a best price of 6/1 to score against the Robins.

City have played Rochdale just four times! We are perfectly even too – both sides have scored a victory over another and twice they have drawn. Interestingly, goals have been at a premium between these teams – just four goals have been scored in all fixtures.

I believe that the bookies have been quite generous with our price – if Rochdale had not won on Tuesday night I think we would have been evens or odds on to win this match. Thanks to their big win, they have offered us City fans better odds and I think they offer good value. Going on that and history, City to win and under 2.5 goals looks a great shout!

Bristol City to win @ 29/20 – BET NOW
I think that with a healthy frustration in our bellies and the fact Rochdale hit five in midweek – the team will go into this match full of desire and respect for the opposition. This is the perfect combination to avoid the entitlement we have seen in the past for matches like these. I think the odds on a City win are generous and with Agard coming in too there is now competition for places and an eagerness to win the three points.

Back another Robins win at 29/20.

*All prices supplied by www.easyodds.com and prices all correct as of Fri 22nd August 2014*

The Exiled Robin

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