Saturday 14th January 2017 ko 12.00
BRISTOL CITY 2 (Murphy 50og Abraham 78)
CARDIFF CITY 3 (Pilkington 74 85 Harris 82)
Att 19,452 (2,100 away)
I think I owed Robyn this one; since she moved to Oxford she’s seen quite a bit of my club Oxford United, it was only fair I returned the favour! There were a couple of additional reasons to go too. The first was the fixture, call me ignorant if you will, but I hadn’t realised this was seen by both sides as a local derby. I was under the impression that Bristol City hate Bristol Rovers, and Cardiff hate Swansea….
I ended up seeing this as less the “Severnside Derby” and more the “We hate someone else more, but since you’re here, you’ll do- Derby” And let’s face it any Anglo-Welsh tie is going to have that element of cross-border spice!
The other reason was that on my last visit to Ashton Gate work on the new West “Lansdown” Stand has been completed so it was a chance to have a nose around and it turned out to be quite a surprising afternoon on that basis. Our tickets were for the South Stand, but the concourses between the South, Dolman, and Lansdown stands are linked, so I could walk round 3 sides of the ground.
The first surprise was that the top tier of the new stand wasn’t open despite it being a local derby, and the second was that the concourse was decorated in Bristol Rugby’s memorabilia. The rugby moved to Ashton Gate in 2014, they’d lost ownership of the Memorial Ground in 1998 after an insolvency event allowed tenants Bristol Rovers to buy the ground. And for a Bristol City fan it must be rather off putting to see their local rivals’ ground plastered all over the walls of their ground!
Incidentally that final game for Bristol Rugby at the Memorial Ground in June 2014 was a Championship play-off first leg loss against London Welsh. The second leg was played at Oxford United’s Kassam stadium, where Welsh had based themselves since 2012. That move from their home in West London directly led to Welsh’s own insolvency event; they went bankrupt late last year.
The new West stand puts Ashton Gate into the category of grounds fit for the Premier League, with its 11,000 seats contributing to a total stadium capacity of 27,000. I found myself comparing it to a purpose-built stadium, Brighton & Hove Albion‘s Amex Stadium. It’s the attention to detail and the nods to the past that appeal, and it is only right and proper that the late John Atyeo has both a stand and statue in his honour.
As an Oxford United fan there was the curious case of Callum O’Dowda to consider. He’s a native of Oxford (well, Kidlington) and had spent his entire career with Oxford United. He’d left Oxford in the summer, after rather engineering the move (he’d claimed to be ill to avoid a pre-season tour of Spain!), and whilst many, me included felt he made the step up a season too early, he’s still well thought of back home, and it was good to see him at the Memorial Ground earlier this season watching his former club.
It was a surprise to see him playing as an inside-left. Callum is an excellent footballer, but his great gift is his pace, his sister Jade incidentally is British U17 Heptathlon champion. Callum O’Dowda is an out-and-out winger and for me, he looked horribly out of position. And Bristol City’s current form really wasn’t helping either.
Put bluntly Bristol City are riding along on the crest of a slump. They’d lost 6 games on the trot and their bright start to the season (we’d seen them trounce Fulham at Craven Cottage) was a distant memory.
The issue seemed to be a real mental block at defending in the last few minuted of games which made for a nervous afternoon even when Joe Bryan’s piledriver cannoned off the crossbar, hit visiting keeper Brian Murphy on the back and rolled in. But then Mark Little brought down Joe Ralls allowing Anthony Pilkington to equalise from the penalty spot, but Tammy Abraham’s overhead kick restored City’s lead; surely it had to be their day?
Clearly it wasn’t, Kadeem Harris cut in front of a leaden-footen Aden Flint to level the tie, and just 3 minutes later Pilkington’s 25 yard strike was a goal fit to win any game of football but must have been a real sickener for the home fans.
City were booed from the pitch, and it was a quiet, glum trudge back to the car but nevertheless there did remain one task to perform. On my last visit to Ashton Gate I bemoaned that I’d been unable to photograph the Clifton Suspension Bridge from the top of the South Stand. That I’d done, but my final word was to do the opposite, and the view of Ashton Gate from Brunel’s masterpiece is one that shouldn’t be missed! So much so that City’s new signing Jens Hegeler was there too!