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2019/20: A season like no other

It was an unprecedented season, one which lasted some 355 days, with its fair share of talking points.

It was full of highs and lows and a case of so-nearly for City, who ended the campaign seven points outside the top six.

Take a look back at the season that was, with memorable wins, a move to behind closed doors and more...

City welcomed would-be champions Leeds United on the opening day

An opening day defeat in the Sky Bet Championship to eventual champions Leeds United and a quick Carabao Cup exit wasn’t exactly the start many had in mind but City quickly stepped up the gears to put together a strong 10-game unbeaten run.

Early optimism

The likes of new signings Tommy Rowe and Ádám Nagy got off the mark, as did Benik Afobe who scored three goals in five games before his horrific, freak ACL injury which ruled him out for nine months.

City beat QPR 2-0 at home which started the mini positive streak with a memorable win over Derby County at Pride Park helping the Robins end August in fifth spot.

The soaking conditions aside, it rained goals at Deepdale where Taylor Moore netted for the first time in City colours but the 3-3 draw meant the Robins’ have not beaten Preston North End in their last 13 attempts - 14 come the final day of the season.

Taylor Moore scored his first goal for the club in the six-goal thriller

City's unbeaten run came to a disappointing end though when Championship newcomers Luton Town secured a shock 3-0 win at Kenilworth Road.

They bounced back with another mini unbeaten streak however, which included Josh Brownhill’s unforgettable last-gasp strike, following Kasey Palmer’s exquisite pass, against Charlton Athletic under the Ashton Gate lights.

Those full-time scenes!

Brownhill, who would go on to secure a Premier League move to Burnley come January, also scored the delightful goal in City’s memorable 1-0 win over Cardiff City; a poignant result as it was the Robins’ first Severnside derby win in South Wales for 17 years!

 

A heavy 4-1 defeat came at the hands of promotion-chasers West Brom though the club were able to welcome back stalwart Korey Smith from long-term injury and they brushed Huddersfield Town away in a 5-2 victory just days later in BS3.

 

New year, new troubles

A hard-fought 2-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage, where Famara Diédhiou - who would end the season as the club's top goalscorer - rounded off a memorable team goal, promised so much but December ultimately proved a tricky month with four defeats in a row.

City would end 2019 eighth in the table, just one point outside the play-off places, thanks to revenge against Luton in a 3-0 home win. In contrast, the first match of the new calendar year was one to forget; the New Year’s Day thrashing at the hands of Brentford was a sign of their serious promotion credentials.

What followed was an Emirates FA Cup defeat to Shrewsbury Town and full focus was now on the Championship, with the top six still in target. That FA Cup disappointment converted into another four-game winning run which suggested City could turn the tide on what had been an inconsistent journey to date.

And While City lost Brownhill in the transfer window, the return of Jamie Paterson alongside the signings of Nahki Wells, Markus Henriksen and Filip Benković boosted the squad.

Nahki Wells scored 20 goals for QPR and City
Filip Benković scored twice on loan
Markus Henriksen arrived from Hull City

February was another tough test with just two wins from seven fixtures which included losses to Leeds United and the Baggies – a 3-2 victory over Derby County would be the last of Lee Johnson’s era as head coach.

But the 125th anniversary game for the visit of Fulham on March 7th brought some relief, in what was a day to celebrate the club’s history and Wells headed home his second goal since the January move in the 1-1 draw. Little did anyone know then but the season would come to an abrupt halt.

Wells scored wearing the one-off 125th anniversary kit - the final game to be played in front of supporters

Pandemic forces football’s postponement

By this point, there had been talk of a new virus sweeping across the globe, but the seriousness of the outbreak and its ramifications were not yet fully known. There were sudden developments in the week leading up to the Blackburn Rovers fixture, and the initial postponement brought the realisation that something far more important than a game of football was going on. Lockdown and the suspension of sport plunged everyone into a state of confusion and the unknown.

The players were given their own equipment and many shared their lockdown stories via social media. The club rworked as hard as ever to be ready for the restart, if and when that was going to be.

After a number of weeks, whispers of return to play dates soon did the rounds and eventually the EFL confirmed a return to training policy. It has transformed since the initial return date but to the very end of the season, players were still tested twice weekly for Covid-19 though training has been allowed to return to some degree of normality, with social distancing rules adhered to off the pitches at all times.

Kit man Scott Murray disinfects the balls at Failand

The new normal

With the coronavirus still present, football had to return without supporters in the stands and it was obvious that players needed time to get back into a playing rhythm and adjust to unfamiliar matchdays.

For City, it was the worst restart imaginable with four defeats in a row, starting the slip at Blackburn Rovers on June 20th. That made it nine games without a win and the last of those, the 1-0 defeat to Cardiff, meant time was up for Johnson after four-and-a-half years in charge.

Dean Holden oversaw the Roibins' return to winning ways over Hull City

It was a sad time for the group, to see a hardworking manager whose philosophy had helped to progress the club in recent years but with change comes new opportunities and it was one taken by Dean Holden. A familiar face with the squad having been Assistant Head Coach since November 2016, Holden got City back to winning ways.

The win over Hull City, followed by a comprehensive 3-1 victory away to Middlesbrough gave City a minor lifeline but the draw with Stoke City and eventually defeat at Swansea dashed their outside hopes of stealing sixth-place. City and Preston North End met on the final day but it was a fixture with nothing riding on it play-off wise for either side.

A new chapter

And so the Robins ended the 2019/20 campaign mid-table but for all of their shortcomings this season, the standings showed how City remained close and within touch of their rivals who also competed for the play-offs. Ultimately, the upturn in results was too little too late.

Now is the time for a fresh start, to learn from what has been a tough journey and get set for a new ride with optimism, belief and confidence. After all, the new season kicks off over the weekend of September 12th and that will come around quickly! With fans hopefully back in the stands at some stage, football will return with some degree of normality too…

Ashton Gate prepares for the 2020/21 season and we hope to see you soon

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