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Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Inside Line: Stevenage (Easter Monday 2014)

Following on from Good Friday’s slightly fortunate three points, City face another side deep in relegation trouble in Stevenage.  Fresh from his fantastic effort in being part of the team to cycle from Land’s End to Ashton Gate in aid of the Bristol City Community Trust (you can still donate here by the way!), Stu Radnedge caught up with another intrepid cyclist – Stevenage fan Steve Watkins – who wrote this preview for what ultimately turned into one of the few highlights of our season over Christmas.
 
In a shameless plug, Steve is taking part in the London to Amsterdam bike ride this June, raising funds and awareness for Prostate Cancer UK . Please help by making a donation  to this very worthy cause at  http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SteveWatkins1
 
So, with bike rides and sponsorship plugs out of the way, onto the questions for Easter Monday’s game in a slightly shortened Q&A in the style of old-fashioned holiday-time match-day programmes!
 
 
Your loss on Good Friday leaves you needing to win each of your last three matches to stand even a slim chance of survival. I assume there’s little confidence of staying up now?
Yes, we are all resigned to relegation now and can see no other scenario. Even if Stevenage were to win the last three games, which is a possibility with all the opposition having little left to play for, it would take too many other sides to basically win nothing in their remaining games. Stevenage are going down I'm afraid.
 
Playing a team fighting for survival in a league usually makes for an unpredictable fixture. Do you expect that to be the case or might your players have accepted their fate?
Watching them come off the pitch at Sheffield United, I think that it looked clear that they know they have thrown it away in the last few weeks. I would like to think that they will have the fight in them to get off the bottom, because I am sure they have not been the worst side in the league this season, but they did look down and it will be a case of whether they can pick themselves up off the floor.
 
What will happen next season with the team? Can you expect lots of comings and goings?
Without doubt there will be changes. There are several players that are currently out on loan and will not feature in Westley’s plans for sure, and one or two may even look to stay in League 1 or possibly higher. Luke Freeman for example has been linked with Championship clubs. Francois Zoko has been phenomenal and Stevenage would have been down a while back without his goals. Can they keep him?
 
Loanees such as Doughty, Obeng, Flanagan, and Henderson are unlikely to want to play League 2 if the opportunity arose as they are all clearly a better standard. Several players may well be suited more to League Two, though, if we are being brutally honest. The fact is, the budget will as always be very tight, and Graham Westley knows where to go for 'his' type of player, and it will more than likely come from below.
 
And finally, can I get a score prediction please?
Stevenage have been very difficult to predict this season, and have shown they are more than capable of mixing with the best. But they are equally capable of losing to the worst. I would suggest that this game will be competitive, and so long as we can keep Sam Baldock at bay, I will go for a share of the points. 2-2.
 
The Exiled Robin

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Friday, 18 April 2014

The Inside Line: Notts County (Good Friday, 2014)

City kick off their Easter weekend with a spring in their step after achieveing the almost-sacred 50-point mark with last weekend’s 1-0 win at Walsall.  The fact that the players were out that night singing “We are staying up” perhaps shows it means more to them than many often think it does?

However, there are still some hard-earned points to be won and the run-in starts with a home match against a side very much still in the need for points.

Stu Radnedge took time out of his marathon effort on two wheels (Stu is part of the team cycling from Land’s End to Ashton Gate for the Bristol City Community Trust this week) to catch up with his namesake https://twitter.com/blackwhitezine at www.theNottsBlog.co.uk to ask these questions.

What are your thoughts on last week's announcement with the fixture move?
As far as we’re aware, it was Steve Cotterill’s idea to shift the game – or maybe more specifically Sean O’Driscoll’s for not requesting the fixture be moved when it was first announced. Regardless, Notts didn’t have to accept did they?

It’s understandably put a lot of noses out of joint but you can see where the club are coming from. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about the fans, more that they know an extra day’s rest could be crucial given our precarious position right now.

Still, doesn’t make it any easier to swallow for those who had booked tickets, travel, hotels etc for the weekend. Notts offered free coach travel to those affected but the damage was already done for many.

Final score? Both parties want castrating, and governing bodies need to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Back to the beautiful game, there has been a transformation as of late for County. Is this a late run for survival and does it hinge on Friday's result?
Survival very much happening irrespective of the game at yours if I’m honest. Just to be able to look at the table and see us not in the bottom four when we’ve had so many final nails hammered into our coffin is incredible. When we lost at Tranmere just over a month ago now, we all knew that was it. It was a do or die game anyway but seeing the players slump to their knees at the final whistle was the moment we knew they’d given up.

Shaun Derry and Greg Abbott have worked miracles to get us where we are today. Four games remain and we’ve earned a very real chance at staying up.

What are your hopes from the game? Is there more focus on seeing it through and not picking up injuries, as you have a crucial match at Crawley on Monday?
Absolutely not. We’re merely one of many clubs trying desperately to hit the 50 point barrier like yourselves did last weekend. We’ll be going into the game high on confidence given the nature of our comeback last weekend at home to Port Vale. 2-0 in auspicious circumstances, mere weeks ago it would have been a right hammering – but to win 4-2 was quite brilliant.

What has been the catalyst for the change in form?
The introduction of Josh Vela on loan from Bolton alongside Gary Liddle has been crucial for us. In seeing off Alan Judge, Neal Bishop and Jeff Hughes in the Summer we essentially signed our own death warrants and are only now righting those wrongs. Mark Fotheringham had a very good pre-season but despite possessing passion in droves failed to deliver regularly enough. And the less said about Joss Labadie the better if I’m honest – quite sad considering the hopes we had for him this time last season.

Then up front, Ronan Murray and Jimmy Spencer have formed our most dangerous double act in years. Spencer is a star, never seen anyone in our colours who a football sticks to like it does him. Whilst Murray’s goals have proven incredibly vital of late. There may be issues over his temperament but he’s a permanent fixture in the first XI now.

Should you beat the drop, what do you think the squad will look like for the following season?  Can you see players being snapped up from County and you bringing players in? Are there any particular positions that require strengthening?
As things stand I think we only have six or seven players actually contracted for next season. When we were rock bottom this only came as great news because we couldn’t wait to see the back of most of them! Recent form though has given a true glimpse of what these lads can do – might be an uncomfortable Summer if things continue to pan out like they are!

Bartosz Bialkowski is likely to be targeted by a few clubs in the Summer given he only has a year left on his contract. He’s had sticky moments this season, but far too often he makes League One look so easy, literally can take your breath away at times.

Alan Sheehan is out of contract and should attract interest. Had he left last Summer when his contract was up very few would have batted an eyelid but he’s been a revelation this season, many people’s clear winner for Player Of The Season. The club appears to be a happier place than it might have been just 12 months ago. We’re really hoping that he’s settled and wants to stick around another year or two.

With regard to incoming players – it’s vital we retain the aforementioned Murray and Spencer given that we’ve seen what they can do together.

Who do you fear on Friday and whom should we fear?
(Ex-City winger) Jamal Campbell-Ryce had possibly his best game in County colours last week against Port Vale. He grabbed two goals, and assisted the other two for Spencer. He’s a completely different player under Derry from that which we saw at the beginning of the season – given we actually have players like Haydn Hollis and Jimmy Spencer who will attack the ball now, he’ll be a huge threat I’m sure.

As for who we fear? Well, I certainly hope reinforced shin guards are being prepared as we speak if Greg Cunningham is in your starting lineup!

And finally, can I get a score prediction please?
Long gone are the days of hoping we can keep scores down and hope to scrap away for a point. I’m predicting a 1-0 Notts win courtesy of Jimmy Spencer!


My thanks to both Stuarts for their answers – you can sponsor Stu Radnedge and the Community Trust for their remarkable efforts, here: http://www.justgiving.com/StuRadnedge


The Exiled Robin

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