This week is the fourth anniversary of Lee Johnson’s appointment as Bristol City manager. Each season of his tenure has seen an improvement in league position, but this term could be his best yet.
Johnson’s side are sixth in the Championship, but as usual with the country’s most entertaining division, things are ludicrously congested: just two points separate positions three to six, and City are only five points off the automatic promotion spots.
Perhaps the thing that might give them the edge is their moves in the transfer window: they lost Josh Brownhill to Burnley, but coming the other way was Nakhi Wells, while they also loaned Filip Benkovic from Leicester and Marcus Henriksen from Hull.
Johnson joined the Totally Football League Show this week, and he outlined how the new arrivals would fit in and improve his team.
“Nakhi is obviously a proven goal scorer in this division, but he’s more than just that. He works hard, got a good touch, he’s got a good movement, and I think he complements the strikers that we’ve got at the club – obviously Andi Weimann’s movement and Nakhi’s movement I think will work well together.
“We’ve got Famara Diedhiou, who’s a bit more of a target man, and you’ve got the Quinn and Phillips-type movement off the back of that. And then obviously Benik Afobe, if we manage to catch him for last month, six weeks of the season as well. You can see them pairing up quite nicely. We’re very versatile in the ‘hat’ of the team, as we’d call it, in that front four.
“Filip Benkovic is one that we’ve been looking to do for a while. We’re delighted to be able to bring him in and grateful to Leicester for trusting us with his development. But also we expect him to be able to help us find our ambition and be very successful.
“I think when Marcus was a bit of a different situation, obviously we knew him and knew him well, from playing against him in the past as captain of Hull. His contract situation at Hull has played a part in him not playing any matches this year, but we’d done the research on him and knew he was fit, he was training with Rosenborg. A lot due diligence went into the physical condition of the player.
“We felt after losing Brownhill, it was the right thing to do just to add that different quality to our midfield. He certainly gives us that height and physicality as well as being a calm and composed footballer.”
All of this is adding to a pretty impressive team to start with, who have won their last four games without conceding a goal.
“Our defence has been good, not only from the back four and the goalkeeper, but right from the front. We needed to finely tune our defensive stuff after conceding three poor goals conceded at Charlton [in the 3-2 defeat at the Valley], and we made a conscious decision to really focus in on that.
“I think we’ve got a really good group who really do try and implement the coaching sessions that we put on. But of course, you always at the mercy of your players and the application and consistency of their work has been outstanding and inevitably we have got that little bit of quality to it to nick a goal or score when required.”
Part of the reason for that has been their team spirit, which Johnson places plenty of emphasis on and actively attempts to foster.
“I think we work really hard on that, whether that be sort of implementing a tactical philosophy, but also a social philosophy that falls off the back of that. Just to give an example, we allowed them to have a night out after the QPR game, all arranged, win, lose or draw, because we felt was important for the new players to go and integrate and understand what their personalities are like off the pitch as well as on the pitch.
“It’s got to be at the right time and it’s got to be focused, but all these little bonding trips that we try and add in to our program obviously become very important because we do need to be able to trust each other on the pitch.
“It’s a very, very competitive league, the Championship, and often the margins are so fine, that if you if you go to bed knowing that your mate in the team next to you is a quality player and you can trust them with your life, there’s a good chance of success on the day.”
The full version of this interview will be on the Totally Football League Show, which will be released on Wednesday. Listen to the latest edition here, or even better you can subscribe here. If you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article or from the podcast you are very welcome to, but please credit The Totally Football Show and include this link.