Episode three of the Robins Nest podcast available
Posted: Wednesday, April 1st 2020
Saturday, August 20th 2016
Bristol City’s biggest crowd for 26 years saw their team edged out by a resilient Newcastle United side at Ashton Gate.
Dwight Gayle struck the only goal of a tight game after 19 minutes, latching on to Mo Diame’s pass to score in clinical fashion.
City enjoyed plenty of possession and the lion’s share of the chances, but the Sky Bet Championship title favourites dug deep to grind out three important points.
Lee Johnson was not afraid to mix things up after City’s first defeat of the season at Norwich City in midweek.
The head coach made four changes to his side – only one of which was enforced, as Joe Bryan was forced to miss out through injury.
In came fellow Bristolian Scott Golbourne, along with Bobby Reid, Luke Freeman and Adam Matthews, who made his first league start since returning to Ashton Gate for a second loan spell.
Both teams started with real intent in almost horizontal rainfall as the conditions resembled more November than August in BS3.
Newcastle had players with obvious quality, not least Matt Ritchie drifting in off the right wing, but City were determined to put on a show for the bumper crowd and flew out of the blocks.
Full-backs Matthews and Golbourne both had shots blocked – symbolic of City’s attacking approach – while Lee Tomlin lofted a cheeky chip on to the top of the net from 20 yards.
Rafa Benitez was fielding Irish international Ciaran Clark, a central defender by trade, at left-back and Jonathan Kodjia had the beating of him.
Twice the Frenchman raced by his man on the outside and sent the ball bouncing around the United box.
But Ritchie’s sweet left foot is always a danger and the former Bournemouth midfielder delivered a corner on to the head of Isaac Hayden, who should have done more than nod wide from six yards.
Then Gayle, playing the role of pantomime villain having been the subject of reported from Ashton Gate last summer, stepped up to take a free kick in a dangerous position that never looked like dipping in time to trouble Richard O’Donnell.
The City keeper still had not needed to make a save by the time he was picking the ball out of his net after 19 minutes.
When fellow summer signing Diame carried the ball menacingly over the halfway line, Gayle peeled away into the left channel, bringing down Diame’s ball over the top and blasting past O’Donnell in the blink of an eye.
It would prove double punishment for City, as Matthews pulled up trying to retrieve the situation and was immediately substituted with what looked like a hamstring problem.
Undeterred, the hosts came back strongly. Hordur Magnusson’s goalbound header struck Aden Flint and looped up into the air.
Tammy Abraham was underneath it and just a couple of yards from goal, but some heroic defending kept him at bay.
Red shirts were buzzing around in the final third and Freeman vacated his wing to force Matz Sels into his first notable save after Hayden had again missed the target from another Ritchie corner.
City would enjoy plenty more territory after the interval, but by now the visitors had regrouped and Benitez’s team talk looked pretty straightforward from afar – don’t concede.
Newcastle were noticeably deeper and more reluctant to commit players forward, at least in the early stages of the second half when City were bound to come out quickly.
As a result, City were able to get closer to the penalty area, produce more crosses and win more corners, albeit nothing to greatly unsettle a towering backline.
The introduction of Callum O’Dowda for Golbourne just after the hour was a sure-fire sign that City were going for it – adopting a 3-4-1-2 formation as Kodjia moved inside to partner Abraham.
Newcastle had offered nothing as an attacking force since the break until Gayle collected the ball into feet, turned sharply and struck the outside of the post with a curling shot from 20 yards – a stark reminder of the quality at the visitors’ disposal.
Johnson immediately threw his last card – Aaron Wilbraham replacing Abraham, who had been starved of opportunities to continue his hot streak in front of goal.
Still chances remained at a premium into the final 15 minutes. Flint climbed as he high as he could, but could not keep his header down from another Gary O’Neil corner.
So content were Newcastle to sit on their lead, City were gaining belief with every passing attack.
The set-piece count continued to rise. Freeman sent a free kick against the first man before producing a peach of a corner on to the six-yard line that Magnusson headed only inches wide.
City needed a piece of magic to save the day. Tomlin stepped up and was not far away from providing it with a 30-yard free kick that just dipped too late, while Kodjia volleyed over after Sels flapped at a high ball.
Plenty of encouragement for the 22,512 inside Ashton Gate, but not quite enough to send the red majority home happy.
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