City showed their true colours against league leaders Newcastle with an enthralling performance in front of the Sky camera’s at Ashton Gate.
With Gary Johnson removed from his post in midweek, the gloom that was lingering over BS3 for the last 18 months was lifted and how it showed.
Johnson’s assistant Keith Millen has been put in temporary charge and decided to ring the changes, both in personnel and formation for the visit of the title favourites.
There was an overdue debut for the highly-rated Christian Ribeiro in defence, Paul Hartley was restored to a three-man midfield and Danny Haynes was chosen to partner the back-to-form Nicky Maynard up front in a 5-3-2.
City flew out of the traps early on, playing with a real intensity and tempo, determined not to let the Geordies settle and Haynes was unlucky to see his looping header from Bradley Orr’s right-wing cross land on top of the net.
Haynes’ pace then sprung the offside trap before getting a shot away on goal which deflected just wide for a corner, before our early pressure was rewarded with the opening goal on 10 minutes.
Andy D’Urso awarded City a free-kick 25-yards out for a push on Cole Skuse. Maynard stepped up to fire a low shot under the wall, which Steve Harper could only parry into the path of Lewin Nyatanga to tap home his first goal for the club.
City nearly went 2-0 up on 20 when Paul Hartley’s canny free-kick picked out Louis Carey but his goalbound header was hacked off the line by Fitz Hall.
Newcastle responded with Kevin Nolan dragging a left-foot shot wide after a stray pass by Nyatanga let him in and Leon Best was expertly closed down by the unrushing Dean Gerken as he bore down on goal.
Four minutes before the break, City got the second goal our first-half performance deserved.
Orr’s raking cross-field pass found its way to Maynard in space of the left-hand side. Afforded time and space to run into, Maynard headed for goal before curling another sublime finish in off the post and past Harper from distance.
Newcastle had their best chance of the half in stoppage time as Danny Guthrie rounded Gerken only to see Paul Hartley race back to cover and clear off the line.
Evander Sno was brought on at the interval for Jamie McAllister, with Skuse asked to fill in at left-back, and it was the on-loan Ajax man who struck a sweet shot straight at Harper.
Jonas Gutierrez, who was diving all over the place throughout the game, then drew a fantastic reaction save from Gerken as his ferocious shot had to be tipped over. A yard either side and it would have been a certain goal.
But Gerken went from hero to villain not long after. Under no pressure, the ex-Colchester man inexplicably threw the ball out to Skuse allowing Gutierrez to nip in and go clean through on goal. The Argentine rounded Gerken and slotted into the empty net on 71.
Newcastle were suddenly in the ascendency as the energy and intensity that epitomised City’s first-half performance was lacking in the second, probably due to the half-time substitution that saw Skuse moved out to the left.
Within five minutes, the Magpies were level. Wayne Routledge found space on the left flank to square for Andy Carroll to stab past Gerken.
The Geordies could have knicked an undeserved win late on, but Gerken redeemed himself somewhat with a fingertip save from a Leon Best header.
There was to be no late drama this time as City’s performance got the result in deserved to enter in a new dawn at the Gate.
CITY (5-3-2): Gerken, Orr, Ribeiro, Carey, Nyatanga, McAllister (Sno ’46), Elliott, Hartley, Skuse, Haynes (Sproule ’85), Maynard.
NEWCASTLE (4-4-2): Harper, Simpson, Hall (Kadar ’51), Coloccini, Enrique, Routledge, Guthrie, Nolan, Gutierrez, Carroll, Best.
REFEREE: Andy D’Urso (Billericay, Essex)
Dean Gerken 6
Was horribly at fault for their first goal but otherwise was sound. He made two or three excellent saves and his distirbution was good too (on the whole!)
Bradley Orr 7
Had his hands full with the antics of Gutierrez down his side but still produced a solid game at right-back.
Jamie McAllister 5
Don’t know why he went off at the break but he played his part in a superb first-half performance. We lost the intensity and balance when he went off.
Lewin Nyatanga 7
Great to see him get his first goal for the club and he was generally up to the task. Distribution was a bit wayward at times but much improved.
Louis Carey 8
Christian Ribeiro 7
At last we see him in the side and what a game to throw him into but he certainly didn’t let anyone down. Was caught a bit flat-footed in the second-half but put in a really encouraging performance on his senior debut.
Marvin Elliott 7
Closed down, harried and pressed like a demon in the first-half but was more subdued in the second.
Paul Hartley 8
Another leader on the pitch and he was given more responsibility to get further forward, which he seemed to relish. Produced some top drawer set-pieces too.
Cole Skuse 7
Like Marv, he did all of that in the first-half but was switched to the left for the second. He did ok out there but would’ve preferred him to stay in the middle to keep getting at them.
Nicky Maynard 8
Another superb strike to add to his repertoire of wonder goals this season. Chased from the front and clincical in front of goal. Back to somewhere near his best I think.
Danny Haynes 7
His pace was a real threat, maybe due to his newly shaven head which made him more aerodyanmic! Constantly unsettled their back line.
Evander Sno 4
Looked like he was really struggling when he came on. The pace seemed too fast for him and we lost the energy in the midfield with his introduction. Not match fit.
Late sub, little impact.
Best Fans In The World? My Arse!
KEITH MILLEN – 7/10
I’ve been critical of Millen before but he impressed me today. I thought he was brave to pick Ribeiro in such a big game, and agreed with his decision to change the system to one which suited the players we have in the squad. It must’ve been a hard week for him after losing his best mate but he came through with flying colours. Well done Keith. I just hope you can carry it on when the camera’s aren’t at the Gate, starting with Barnsley on Tuesday.
CHRIS HUGHTON – 6/10
They probably paid us too much respect in the first-half (God knows why!) but his half-time team talk obviously had the desired effect as his team came back into the game more after the break. He also made a tactical switch at the break that saw that diving Argie and Routledge switch wings, which had a big impact on their second-half dominance.
New Dawn Has Arrived
Wow! That was the City we all know and love. We were up against it playing the team that will win the league but everyone pulled together.
The first-half performance was as good as it’s been this year but the introduction of Sno for McAllister lost the momentum we’d built up in the first 45.
That said, we competed in all areas of the pitch against a superior team, matched them in every department and the players showed what they’re capable of and by christ did the fans react well to that.
Rocking East End
That was the best I’ve seen the East End in a long old time yesterday. From the first whistle we backed the team to the hilt and I think everyone in there was buzzing. It rubbed off around the ground too.
Whether that was because the doom and gloom was lifted with Johnson’s departure or the extra drinking time in the pub, I don’t know but it worked. It was probably a combination of both in truth!
Best Fans In The World? My Arse!
A lot of people in the media or whatever harp on about Newcastle having the best fans in the world but what a load of crap that is.
I’ve been to both games this season and been disappointed with them twice. Yes, they travel in big numbers but vocally there’s a lot of hype about nothing. We didn’t hear a peep out of them til they scored!