It was a massive victory for Bristol City last weekend at Wigan. Lee Johnson described the dressing room after the game as “like a nightclub” – how much does a result affect the mood in the camp?
The boys were buzzing and the music was playing. It’s been a frustrating time trying to get a win for a while now, so we did enjoy a little celebration after the game, but it wasn’t anything major. We just enjoyed the moment, got back on the coach and straightaway our focus turned to the next game.
Who’s in charge of the playlist in the dressing room?
It’s funny actually. A few of us went to an event in Bristol last week and there was a guy from Bristol called Mikee Freedom, who’s got a song called (I Wanna Give You) Devotion. So he performed at the event and Alby (Aaron Wilbraham) put his song on in the dressing room straight after the game, so the boys were buzzing and we were all laughing because it was still fresh in our minds. That’s probably why it was like a nightclub! We listened to the song after a win, so maybe he could be our good luck charm now.
It was City’s first away win in the league since September. How aware were you, as players, of that statistic?
Of course we were aware of it and it was no secret. I think everyone in the country knew we hadn’t won for a while, but that’s all in the past now and all we can do is focus on the next game. We knew it was a massive win. For me personally, having only just come back into the fold in the last five games, I’m really enjoying playing because I’ve been out for most of the season. I’m just trying to enjoy every game and every moment as it comes, because when you’re out for a long time you do miss football a lot. You try not to think about statistics like that, but they are in the back of your head and they can affect the way you play and your confidence levels. We just went into it knowing we had to win, so in the 88th minute when that goal went in it was a great feeling.
Korey Smith right-back – did you ever think you would hear that?
I’d played there once before under the gaffer at Oldham. I think we had a bit of an injury crisis, so I played there and did a decent job. Like I said, when you’ve been out for a long time, you just enjoy being back on the pitch. Wherever I play towards the end of the season, as the fans know, I’ll always give 110 per cent. We got the win, so that was the most important thing.
Did you speak to other members of the squad about playing in that position? How did you find the transition?
Obviously Litts (Mark Little) has been injured and Zak (Vyner) played there in the last game. A few of the boys just said ‘it’s no problem for you’. I feel I’ve got the attributes to play in most positions on the pitch – at the end of the day it’s about going out there and giving your best wherever you’re asked to play. That’s all I tried to do. If I can help out between now and the end of the season playing there, or anywhere else on the pitch, I’ll do that.
In terms of this season as a whole, how would you sum it up on a personal level?
It’s been a very frustrating one for me with the injuries I’ve had. When the side is going through a hard time and the boys are a bit down, you want to be there and try to help as much as you can. At the beginning of the season when I first got injured, I was getting a bit frustrated and maybe overthinking it, but I started to learn that doesn’t really help. At the end of the day you’re going to get injuries – all you can do is work as hard as you can to get yourself in the best possible shape for whenever you’re fit and needed back in the squad. That’s what I tried to focus on. Now that I’m back, I’ve played five games in two weeks, which is an achievement for me this season and just shows how hard I’ve worked on getting back into shape and my ankle strength. It takes time, but I’ve got my head down and really worked. Hopefully now I can stay fit for the rest of the season.
Speaking to any player, they always say the worst part is being injured; it can be a very lonely time for a footballer. How have things changed for you since the birth of your son?
When you’re injured it is lonely. The boys are all out on the training pitch while you’re on your own in the gym – you might see them at lunchtime, but they’re going off to away games and staying in hotels while you’re left on your own with the physios. Don’t get me wrong, the masseurs and physios have been absolutely great with me – they really keep your spirits up. But now that I go home to my son and my missus, I walk through that door and they’re a massive help because they put a smile on my face. He’s not thinking that you’re injured or not playing or you’ve lost a game, he just loves you for who you are because you’re his dad. You can’t be sad around him – you’ve got to have a smile on your face because those are the things you live for.
It’s coming up to three years for you now at Ashton Gate. Your son was born here in Bristol – has the city become a special place for you?
Definitely, it’s like a second home to me. I’ve met some of my best friends here – people I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life. The place has been great and the fans have always been so supportive of me. Hopefully that can continue for a long time, because I love it here and enjoy every moment. I appreciate the opportunity the club gave me and I’ll always continue to give 100 per cent for them.
We know you’ve worked under Lee Johnson before. How has his approach changed as a head coach at Bristol City?
It’s different because Oldham is a smaller club. There’s not as much pressure on you and there’s not as much money going through the club. It’s the same for me as a player – it’s a different level of expectation here. But I think he’s adapted brilliantly and we’ve really got together over these last few games. We did an exercise in the hotel the other day between ourselves, which has really helped with the togetherness in the squad. We’ve drawn a few, but we’ve only lost one of the last five games and picked up some good results. He’s really pulled us together and he’s a brilliant manager. We’re looking forward to staying up with him this year and moving on next year.
Was that a team bonding exercise?
Yes, with the feeling around the club and the fans being upset because we hadn’t won for a while, it was important we stuck together. We did an exercise to show our appreciation of each other – just going through different players and saying positive things about them. I think that was a brilliant idea for the gaffer to come up with and it’s really helped us in recent weeks.
Does it feel like a corner is being turned in the season?
Like I said, we’ve only lost one of our last five games and right now it’s all about putting points on the board because every single one is going to be absolutely vital. Getting that win could be a major plus for our confidence and for the fans as well. There are still nine games to go and it’s only one win, so you can’t look too far into it, but it was a great feeling and hopefully it will give a boost to the whole club looking ahead to the next few games.
I don’t want to end this interview on a downer, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Korey Smith goal. Is the next one on its way? Maybe not from right-back!
You never know, maybe from right-back I might actually get one! It would be a great feeling to score an important goal for the team between now and the end of the season, so hopefully I can tuck one away.
We saw Bailey Wright get one against Norwich, so if he can score…
Unfortunately I’m not six foot so I don’t get to go in the box on any set-pieces! Maybe I’ll get unleashed on one of those soon.