By Jack Dosson | @jackdossonsport
The sacking of Lee Johnson was undeniably a flagship moment in the history of Bristol City Football Club. The former Robins midfielder had scaled the club to heights unseen since the reign of his father a decade previous, providing the clubs supporters with several lifelong memories along the way.
To dismiss a man who had flipped the fortunes of the notriously underachieving West Country club from relegation candidates to an established promotion-chasing Championship side is a show of ambition and intent.
However, whilst Johnson has now laid some strong foundations for a successor to mount a vigorous charge towards promotion to the Premier League, with arguably the strongest squad in the club’s history and ever improving facilities, this is next appointment is one which the Ashton Gate heirarcht darent get wrong.
Whilst Chris Hughton is both the supporters’ and bookmakers’ favourite for the hotseat in BS3, understandable given his impressive track record in England’s second-tier, City could opt for another young manager of the same mould as Johnson.
The Robins may only have to look across the Severn Bridge to Newport for their man, with the work being done by Michael Flynn turning several heads outside of South Wales.
The Welshman is currently the second-favourite for the Bristol City job at 5/1.
With this in mind, we caught up with longterm Newport County supporter Caitlin Bennett to find out more about the Exiles’ boss.
“His passion and belief drives him, he’s a hometown hero who has rewrote the history of our club, and has instilled a mentality that we can fight any battle,” she explained.
Flynn’s ‘Amber Army’ have risen to national prominence in recent years due to a couplet of miraculus FA Cup runs, beating the likes of Leeds United, Leicester City, and Middlesbrough over the past three seasons, to set up glamour ties with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, initially holding the former to earn a lucrative second leg at Wembley.
However, one strong criticism of Lee Johnson in particular has been his inconsistent team selections, a trait that Caitlin believes is shared over the bridge.
“Sometimes you can question Flynn’s tactics or team choices, but he’s always going to be that manager screaming from the sidelines trying to spur his team on.
“His formations are usually very defensive, we switch alot depending on which players are fit, because our depth doesn’t go much further than our strongest eleven.”
Newport have hardly been free-scoring this season, with their 32 goals the second-lowest in League Two, and their average shot-per-game count of 3.4 sitting low in 22nd place.
However, unlike Johnson, Flynn has never received significant financial backing at Rodney Parade, something that Caitlin, who has been supporting County for over a decade, believes is limiting what the Exiles can achieve under their former midfielder.
“We are a fan-owned club so it’s not easy for us, every bit of money that goes in comes from the fans, so there’s always been that question of how far Flynn could really take us with financial backing. I think we would be a hugely different team.
“He’s excellent at developing players, Corey Whitely and Tristan Abrahams have both improved so much under him, but there is always that financial worry which can sometimes overshadow the players and fans input.
“I think that if he did go to Bristol City he would enjoy abit more control over the finances and players he could bring in, because whilst we don’t always play the best football at Newport, what I saw from us in the 2017/18 season, Flynny’s first full year, was the best I’ve ever seen County play.”
Whilst Lee Johnson has failed to give an academy player a first team debut for the Robins this season, a surprise given the recent emergence’s of Lloyd Kelly, Zak Vyner, and Max O’Leary, the word from across the Bristol Channel is that there may not be a clear pathway from the youth teams to Championship football at Ashton Gate should the 39-year-old take over either.
“I feel we could be be more reliant on our youth players’ at Newport,” Caitlin said.
“We have so many talented youngsters, which we see on the bench or in cup games, but once we have our chosen eleven we tend to stick with it.”
Although despite this, Caitlin has seen enough from Flynn at Rodney Parade to belive that he has what it takes to be the first man to lead Bristol City to the Premier League.
“We love Flynny with all our hearts here at Newport, he of course led us to the ‘great escape,’ taking over when we were 11 points from safety with just 12 games remaining before keeping us up on the final day.
“I would back him to take City to the Premier League, as much as Lee Johnson did for your club, Flynn would relish the challenge there.
“He’d be a fresh face, and bring a fresh set of ideas, which I hate to admit because I’d love to keep him here.”