Johnson Expects Expansive Affair
Posted: Thursday, April 7th 2016
Saturday, April 9th 2016
Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate.
The highest crowd of the season at Ashton Gate witnessed perhaps City’s best display of their maiden Sky Bet Championship campaign as promotion-hunting Sheffield Wednesday were swept aside in BS3.
Early goals from Lee Tomlin and Bobby Reid set the tone – the Bristolian with his first in a City shirt for 16 months – while Tomlin made it three from the penalty spot to complete a memorable first half.
City were awarded another spot-kick seven minutes into the second period from which Jonathan Kodjia made it four in the absence of the substituted Tomlin.
Ross Wallace’s precise free kick that struck the post and rebounded into the net off the unfortunate Richard O’Donnell was the only blemish on a stunning performance just three weeks after City hit Bolton Wanderers for six.
Lee Johnson made three changes to his side at the end of a three-game week.
Aaron Wilbraham’s absence through a calf injury spelled the end of his record as an ever-present this season, paving the way for Kodjia to return as the lone striker.
Behind him there were two alterations to the three attacking midfield players, as Reid and Luke Freeman replaced Peter Odemwingie and Scott Golbourne, who dropped to the bench for the first time since returning to his hometown club in January.
That meant fellow Bristolian Joe Bryan started at left-back – the position Johnson predicts the youngster will occupy as a Premier League player in years to come.
On a busy day of team news, Sheffield Wednesday were making six changes of their own including in goal, where Keiren Westwood was withdrawn at the last minute and made way for Joe Wildsmith – curiously not in the original matchday squad at all, meaning substitute keeper Lewis Price remained on the bench.
An eventful start off the pitch was replicated on it. Ironically Wednesday, who were 2-0 down within 13 minutes, might have led by the same scoreline even earlier.
First Aiden McGeady pounced on a loose ball to go one-on-one with O’Donnell, but the Sheffield-born keeper whose career began at Hillsborough was out quickly to save crucially with an outstretched boot.
O’Donnell was motionless moments later when Barry Bannan stepped up to float a 20-yard free kick over the wall that dropped agonisingly wide from a visiting perspective.
But Johnson had vowed to fight fire with fire against an expansive side whose approach was always going to contrast the spoiling tactics City faced at the hands of Rotherham United in midweek.
The plan was working as early as the tenth minute. Adam Matthews found space down the right and hung up a deep cross to the far post that missed out everyone except Tomlin, who sneaked around the back to meet it with a cushioned volley that found the net despite the best efforts of a covering defender on the goal line.
Three minutes later City were cruising against a team looking to strengthen their grip on a play-off spot.
Again it was down the right that Wednesday were exploited, this time through Freeman, who raced into the box and ignored the obvious pass across the six-yard box to Kodjia – instead cutting the ball back for the onrushing Reid to dispatch with an unerring shot that flew past Wildsmith into the top corner from 14 yards.
It was a lead that could have been extended sooner with the Owls unable to handle the urgency of City’s counter-attacking. Only seven days ago Johnson was labelling the first 20 minutes at Hull as the worst he has seen from his side, but surely this was City at their best.
The chances kept coming. Kodjia broke free, cut inside and fired a left-footed shot straight at Wildsmith but with sufficient power for the keeper to parry it out straight to Korey Smith – eventually doing enough to put the midfielder off as he dived at his feet.
Goalscorer Reid was full of confidence and wanted another shot from a shade further out when Tomlin looked the better option to his left, only to see it charged down.
Meanwhile, Freeman was getting closer to his first ever goal at Ashton Gate. Having shot wide from 25 yards, he had a more presentable opening at the end of a brilliant counter-attack that started deep inside the City half and ended with Wildsmith making a save from the midfielder, who felt he was impeded as he pulled the trigger.
Freeman came close to turning provider when his typically inviting corner was met by Marlon Pack and kept out by the stooping Wildsmith, before City were finally awarded the penalty they had threatened in the closing stages of the first half.
When Tomlin found himself face to face with Liam Palmer, his footwork was too quick for the Wednesday man and lured a trip from the defender.
The Bournemouth loanee duly picked himself up and dispatched the spot-kick beyond the dive of poor Wildsmith, who could not have imagined a day like this when he made the journey south as Wednesday’s third-choice keeper.
It was to be Tomlin’s last act, as he was replaced as one of three half-time alterations – two of them for the visitors.
City’s number nine would have been cursing his luck when Reid won another penalty soon after the restart after good work from replacement Scott Wagstaff and Kodjia, who took responsibility from 12 yards to beat Wildsmith to the opposite side.
City were cruising and Ashton Gate was bouncing – quite literally, in the case of a number of its inhabitants.
It was hard not to have sympathy for Wildsmith – a young goalkeeper learning his trade who was actually handed his Football League debut by Johnson at Ashton Gate for Barnsley nearly a year ago to the day.
At the other end, O’Donnell may have been a virtual spectator but would still have been desperate to mark his first time playing against the team he supported as a boy with a clean sheet.
But that was not to be the case, as half-time substitute Wallace stepped up to send a 30-yard free kick against the post, striking the upright and deflecting back into the net off the unfortunate goalkeeper.
Waking up in the morning to see “O’Donnell” printed as a Sheffield Wednesday goalscorer in the newspapers was once a childhood dream – now a rather inconvenient reality.
Normal service was resumed when Reid had the ball in the net at the other end only to be flagged offside, before departing to a standing ovation at the end of perhaps his finest City performance to date.
Kodjia, meanwhile, dragged a chance wide from the edge of the box as he went hat-trick hunting to no avail.
To their credit Wednesday kept playing and their boisterous supporters stayed behind them, but the tricky Fernando Forestieri had left his shooting boots at home.
Thankfully City hadn’t.
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