Preview: Bristol City v Middlesbrough
Posted: Friday, January 15th 2016
Saturday, January 16th 2016
Wes Burns scored the latest of late winners to end Middlesbrough’s amazing run of clean sheets at Ashton Gate.
The visitors were on the verge of a tenth straight Sky Bet Championship shutout until Burns touched home Flint's powerful header five minutes into added time.
With only four minutes signalled, the shoe was finally on the other foot for a City side so haunted by late goals at the wrong end in recent weeks.
The hosts began life after Steve Cotterill with three changes in personnel and one in formation, as interim management duo John Pemberton and Wade Elliott opted for a 4-3-3 system against the league leaders.
Out went Aaron Wilbraham, Mark Little and Luke Freeman, with the latter still nursing a dead leg from the midweek home defeat to Preston North End.
In came the young trio of Derrick Williams, Wes Burns and Reid, whilst Under-21 central defender Zak Vyner was rewarded for some accomplished displays under Elliott with a maiden first team call up.
Table toppers Boro made only one alteration after extending their run of successive clean sheets in league games to nine with a 1-0 win at Brentford, meaning a start for former Ashton Gate favourite Albert Adomah on the left side of midfield on his first return to BS3.
Sure enough it was the winger, loudly cheered before kick-off, who was presented with the first chance of the day.
Cristhian Stuani contrived to slice a shot so horribly that it failed to reach City’s goal, meaning Flint had to deal with the danger.
When the defender’s header went only as far as Adomah, he snatched at the volley and saw his shot sail into the Atyeo Stand.
Boro were far from dominant but gradually set about increasing the pressure by the midpoint in the first half.
Centre-back Daniel Ayala carried the ball out from the back with confidence, finding himself on the right touchline before producing a superb low cross that should have been converted by Kike, who shot wide.
Then Stuani was played through but forced to try his luck from 20 yards as red shirts retreated, ultimately seeing his rather tame effort comfortably stooped upon by Richard O’Donnell.
City had been typically committed but more direct in finding their wide men higher up the pitch.
Bryan whipped in a delicious cross just beyond the reach of Jonathan Kodjia before Burns followed in, but the ball ran through to Dimi Konstantopoulos.
The veteran Greek shot-stopper had to take far more prominent action soon after. Burns beat the offside trap to race on to Derrick Williams’ ball over the top, set his sights and saw a firm side-footed strike pushed aside.
City’s set-pieces were causing problems, with Flint and Nathan Baker both coming close, while Bryan produced a different kind of delivery with his right foot that nearly outfoxed the country’s most miserly defence.
The hosts continued on the front foot well into the second period, although the midfield axis of Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton in front of a regimented backline was making it very difficult to get a clear sight of Konstantopoulos’ goal.
Kodjia did escape on one or two occasions around the hour mark, firstly going alone with Reid and Burns busting a gut to his right, shooting wildly off target on his left foot.
The striker had been without his usual foil in Wilbraham and been on the periphery of things as a result, but showed great desire to steal the ball in Boro territory and drive towards goal, eventually shooting low and hard but straight at Konstantopoulos.
The 37-year-old had been unquestionably the busier keeper, albeit in a game of few chances, but O’Donnell was called into action when Adomah’s fierce shot had to be parried to safety.
Scott Wagstaff was introduced with 20 minutes left to make his first appearance since the reverse fixture at the Riverside Stadium back in August, before Konstantopoulos had to make another save, this time from Luke Ayling’s goalbound header.
The game opened up in the final ten minutes. City had one anxious moment when O’Donnell came for a long ball only for one of his own men to head it straight to Adomah, who still had a lot to do and in the end sent a rather apologetic lob well over the top.
Wagstaff had his moment to be a hero – a half-chance at best – but dragged a 20-yard effort wide, before Wilbraham came off the bench to combine with Reid, whose initial footwork was brilliant but without a shot at the end of it.
There was no doubt who looked the more likely winners, particularly when Konstantopoulos looked uncomfortable under a high ball and Flint headed against the bar from point-blank range.
But just as Boro thought they had survived, Burns touched in from Reid’s last-gasp corner to secure a dramatic victory.
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