Championship Analysis – McInnes effect continues as a resurgent Bristol City stun Southampton

Six weeks ago Bristol City – even at such an early stage of the season – were in big trouble. The Robins were bottom of the Championship, having taken just six points from their opening ten matches, the most recent of which were a 5-0 thrashing at Blackpool days after crashing 3-2 at home to Reading despite holding a two-goal lead with 15 minutes keft. The big defeat at Bloomfield Road proved the last straw for the club’s chairman, Colin Sextone, who, with head over heart, dismissed the long-serving Keith Millen, a player and subsequently a coach for 12 years at Ashton Gate.

Under new manager Derek McInnes the club’s fortunes have taken a hugely impressive turn for the better. Although his first match in charge ended in a 2-0 defeat at home to Birmingham, since then the club have bagged four wins out of five plus a well-earned point against West Ham at Upton Park. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over leaders Southampton, of course, was the most eye-catching, ending the Saints’ run of four consecutive wins as well as their record of having scored in every match so far this season.

Clearly McIness, who enjoyed a successful, promotion-winning stint at St Johnstone before joining the Robins, has made a massively positive impact on and off the field, and it was refreshing to hear him steer clear of the usual take-one-game-at-a-time cliche during his post-match interview. Instead, he told the club’s Official Website: “It was a very good performance, but we’ve been very good in a few games, so I wouldn’t put it above anything else. It’s important psychologically to build on another home win and get two in a row, but also to beat the team at the top of the tree as well. Not that I needed convincing, but it sends out a message to the players that certainly if they prepare right and play in the manner in which they can, we can beat any team in the league.”

Nevertheless, there’s still work to be done. Despite Bristol City’s excellent turn of form, the fact that the Robins remain in the bottom three, albeit only on goal difference behind the erratic Millwall, is indicative of the ground the club has had to claw back. Behind them, Doncaster and Coventry remain six points adrift, and the Sky Blues are now eight games without a win.

At the top end, Southampton’s loss was West Ham’s gain as Sam Allardyce’s team reduced the gap to two points following a 3-1 home win against Derby. Cardiff, who are now unbeaten in eight, lead the chasing pack, ahead of Middlesbrough. Despite Boro being held to a draw for the eighth time this season, Tony Mowbray’s side maintain a four-point buffer over Leeds in fifth, while Blackpool nudged Hull out of the play-off spots on goal difference after Nick Barmby’s side let Burnley overturn a 2-0 lead in the dying seconds.

As has been the case for many weeks, however, Birmingham are still the team to watch. Chris Hughton’s side are now only a point behind in eighth, having turned their games in hand into points admirably. And the clubs ahead will continue to look nervously over their shoulders as the Europa League contenders are still two games in arrears.

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