From Hughton to Holden: What exactly are the Bristol City hierarchy looking for?

by Kory Cook ¦ @bcfckory

It’s been five weeks since Bristol City announced the departure of Lee Johnson as the club’s Head Coach, and after a number of twists and turns regarding the bookies’ favourite for the job, we are still waiting for an appointment.

In this piece, I will take a look as to why it’s taken the club so long, and why Dean Holden has emerged as a serious candidate for the role. 

Before the Hull game last month, the club’s first game without a permanent Head Coach, City aired an interview with CEO Mark Ashton, in which he described the sheer amount applicants they’d received. However, three days before the squad return for pre-season, we are still without any official announcement from the club, and interim manager Holden is now the favourite. So, the question in everyone’s heads: why has it taken so long to potentially appoint the man who’s been readily available all along?

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Holden (left) looks set to take charge of Bristol City.

There is an argument that it seems ludicrous to give the job to a man who, for four years, has been sat next to the very same manager we’ve just let go; especially as the reasoning for the sacking was that it was felt he’d taken the team as far as he could. 

The first thing Holden did as interim boss was change formation. He switched it from the 4-4-2 adopted by Johnson during City’s long winless run to a more dynamic 3-5-2, a set-up favoured by City fans, and one that seemed to make the most sense with the squad at the gaffers’ disposal. This also led to a return to action for outcasts Jamie Paterson and Filip Benkovic, who’d both been left out for the majority of Johnson’s last few weeks at the club. 

The two players, who both fitted perfectly into Holden’s system, shone, as City recorded back-to-back wins against Hull and away at Middlesbrough. Paterson stood out, grabbing himself two special goals and a clever assist, raising questions as to why he’d been left out for so long. 

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Pato enjoyed a fruitful spell of form under Holden’s stewardship.

The Boro game is regarded by many as City’s best performance of the season, as they looked a shadow of the side that were at the tail end of a nine match winless run just two games before. Holden stuck with the 3-5-2, and was praised for the fluidity and freedom that he’d given the team, with the two wing backs acting as wingers at times, and the midfield three consisting of two players that had been adopted as strikers at times in recent years. City blew Neil Warnock’s Boro away, as the pessimism surrounding the team disappeared, and hopes of a late play off push were reignited. 

It was clear that City were running out of steam towards the end of the season, as Holden’s consistently picked 11 failed to win any of their final three games. The immediate change of formation, along with the re-inclusion of certain players that Johnson had opted against, lead to the question: how much say did Holden and the rest of the backroom staff have on the team under Johnson? And is the idea that Holden can’t lead the team permanently therefore invalid?

Ashton has been singled out for criticism regarding City’s recruitment of a head coach; could it be possible that he has played a part in putting off other candidates, leading to Holden being the club’s only realistic option? Not only can his personality appear questionable at times, but certain managers – such as the big names like Chris Hughton and Steven Gerrard – may not be keen on not having full say over transfers. 

One problem with Ashton and the interviewing process is that surely he would favour a manager who is happy to work with him regarding the handling of transfers, like Holden, rather than a more experienced option, such as Hughton. This raises the issue over whether the CEO should even have an involvement in the appointment, as he would naturally lean towards a man who is happy with the job he does. 

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The big question remins: Who will replace Lee Johnson?

The current climate concerning the coronavirus pandemic is obviously sure to have an impact on the club, but the idea that it might limit City’s options managerially is surely wide of the mark. It was well reported that the club had singled out Gerrard as their number one target; some journalists even suggested they offered him up to £50,000 a week. If the hierarchy are to use Covid-19 as an excuse as to why they didn’t go for a more proven manager, the whole Gerrard-saga doesn’t reflect well on the club’s handling of things. 

As we await official confirmation of who will take the hot seat at Ashton Gate, the club is bound to come under further scrutiny, particularly for some of the possibly fake promises made regarding where the club is looking to go under a new Head Coach.

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