Tough task for Nahki Wells and Bristol City to turn the tide of an underwhelming season
Nigel Pearson, the Bristol City manager, admits there is a lot of work to be done to turn around the fortunes at the club after a 2021 slump has seen them drop to 19th in the Sky Bet Championship table.
City are clear from the threat of relegation ahead of their final game of the campaign — at home to promotion-chasing Brentford on Saturday — but a season that promised so much early on for Nahki Wells and his team-mates has turned out to be a disappointing one.
In the first week of October, City were second in the table after four straight wins, with Wells looking set to be involved in a second promotion push to the Premier League after helping Huddersfield get there in 2017 when he scored ten goals.
The Bermudian striker is City’s leading scorer this season, with eleven goals, but the Robins are well off the top half of the table, closer instead to the relegation zone than the minimum play-off spot they were aiming for a few months ago.
Pearson was brought in to replace fired Dean Holden after another slump in January and February saw them lose seven straight matches — six in the league and one in the FA Cup.
Pearson watched from the sideline as City beat Middlesbrough and was then on the bench for his first match when they followed up a few days later with another 3-1 away win, this time over Swansea with Wells scoring in both wins. It has been a rocky start for Pearson, picking up just two wins in 13 games as the team has suffered eight defeats since he took over and are still looking for their first home under him. Last weekend’s 4-1 loss to Millwall made it nine games without a win for City, with this weekend’s season-ending home fixture not likely to be an easy one, either, against one of the top teams in the division.
In the week that he signed a new, three-year contract, Pearson knows the task that awaits him in the lead-up to next season.
“It’s bigger than I thought, that’s the honest way of looking at it, but that doesn’t dent my optimism in how it needs to be turned around,” he told Robins TV. “I’ve committed my future here and I’m pleased to have done that, but there is a lot of work to be done.
“This is my team, so I take the responsibility but there has to be a shift in the collective mentality and accountability.
It’s obvious we don’t have the tools to deal with it.
“You can talk about players being absent, but I still expect anyone who puts on our shirt and goes on to the field to be able to deal with the mental demands and the expectation on them to perform.
“If I was in any doubt about the size of the task, today’s showing does underline the work that needs to be done.”
Pearson has not dismissed the suggestion that changes will need to be made in the near future, possibly this summer.
“We’re seeing the same things: goals given away without the opponents needing to work as hard as they should,” he said.
“It’s a very frustrating time and there will be changes in how it looks moving forward.“We need to be much fitter and the fact we’re not fit enough is probably one of the main factors for picking up the injuries we have. “We have to negotiate this last game of the season and if we put on a showing like that [today] it’s going to be a tough day.
“I will see this week who’s up for the journey and who’s not and the ones who aren’t will be casualties.”
The manager added: “It remains a huge frustration for everyone associated with the club because we’ve got a sound infrastructure and facilities which are exceptional. We can’t match that on the field at the moment.
“The young players continue to show the right qualities, that’s important for us.”