Bristol City had a pretty good 2007-08 season, following promotion from League One to the Championship, making the playoffs that year but not securing promotion. However since then, the Robins have languished a bit. Is there an obvious problem that needs to be fixed? Is promotion a realistic goal in the near future?
Paul Binning: Yes, our first season back was a dream, and only a late hiccup dropped us into the play-offs. Had we got something out of a game at Stoke towards the end of the season we'd have probably gone up automatically. That season was a classic case of riding the wave of optimism though - we probably weren't one of the best three sides in the division in all honesty, but we had togetherness, a team spirit and huge waves of confidence that dug us out of holes time and time again. The best way of defining that was the fact that our goal difference was never far from 0 - quite remarkable for a team in the top two or three for most of the season.
The following season was tougher, but we still managed good enough results to be in fourth place around February, only to fall away to mid table. The Gary Johnson ‘bubble' effect had started to dissipate and that trend became irreversible. A decent, championship level goal-scorer couldn't be found, whilst new signings- an area Johnson had always held great store in scrutinising closely - had become hit and miss, almost scatter-gun in a vain attempt to find the magic formula.
Another year on and even the staunchest Gary Johnson fan had to admit his time was probably up, and whilst his assistant Keith Millen successfully guided us comfortably clear of relegation worries by May, excitement and expectation was reignited by the appointment of Steve Coppell, a serial promotion-winner and the remarkable signing of David James, fresh from his South African World Cup adventure/disaster.
Coppell's reign lasted just three, disastrous, games however before he walked away after just days in the role (not for the first time in his career), leaving a side lacking confidence and direction. Millen was immediately handed a three-year deal, a move intending to provide stability which eventually backfired and after a dismal 14 or so months, in which Ashton Gate saw some of the most dire performances in a generation, Millen was relieved with the club bottom of the league in October last year.
The club had stagnated. Many of the same players who had reached Wembley were still in the side but had lost that spirit and confidence and looked what they probably were - players comfortable in League One, who with a good bit of form could achieve mid-table status in the Championship but who'd long secured good contracts and were playing with a comfort factor that became evident.
The appointment of Derek McInnes, Owen Coyle's protégé at St. Johnstone, was widely welcomed and, despite his relatively unknown persona, his arrival instantly lifted the atmosphere of the whole club. Results improved, and although a tough winter dragged us into trouble again, and end-of-season revival provided hope that things were on the up.
This season has been mixed but has at least been entertaining and a solid mid table position would be welcomed by almost everyone at the club, although with the funds made available for new signings, I don't doubt the Board has loftier ambitions.
The Robins have had a number of very important players come through their ranks over the years, one prime example being Andy Cole. Is there someone in the Bristol City system that the football world should be on the lookout for?
PB: This is actually an area the club has been pretty poor at and one in which I've been quite critical in recent times. Cole came from Arsenal and only spent a short time with us (we gave him his break) and despite millions of pounds of investment, the number and quality of player we've produced has been average at best.
Club stalwarts Louis Carey and Cole Skuse are the best examples of a success story, but neither are close to being good enough to be a Premier League regular, whilst Leroy Lita, Liam Rosenior and Dave Cotterill all threatened to become big players but have by and large flattered to deceive since leaving Ashton Gate.
We seem to have a general problem producing players who achieve their potential, although actually it's a problem the whole area suffers from. I can't think of many, since the likes of Ian Holloway and Marcus Stewart (both via the historically stronger Rovers youth team) from Bristol area who have been big successes. When I asked my followers on Twitter the only other names that came to mind were along the lines of Jason Dodd, Gary Mabbutt, Julian Dicks and Darren Peacock, all from an era slightly bygone and none genuinely top-class, whilst Scott Sinclair (again, from Rovers originally) is the only current player fulfilling the Premier League dream regularly.
Right now the only young players regularly in our squad are James Wilson, a centre-half who Everton were once reportedly interested in but, again, has yet to establish himself in a frankly shocking defensive line, and Joe Bryan, a left-sided player who is a recent recruit to the Scottish under-21's squad. Below that line there are a few 16 and 17 year-old's dotted around representing their country, so hopefully the future is brighter.
Manager Derek McInnes has had about a year to settle in at the club now. What changes has he made in terms of style of play? Do you see him sticking around for a while at a club that has been going through a fair number of managers recently?
PB: McInnes has been a mild revelation since he started, although his failure to resolve the defensive frailty is causing concern. What has changed dramatically is our style. Under Millen we generally played 4-5-1 and it led to months of, well, dirge, to put it politely. McInnes came in and largely stuck with the same formation with varying degrees of success, but this summer he has seemingly decided attack is the way forward and in new signings Sam Baldock and Stephen Davies, plus a welcome persistence with two wingers, we've been the team to watch, especially at home. I think most fans hope he'll be ere for a while, to get a bit of stability back and allwo him time to build a squad exactly how he wants it
What particular strength do you think will disarm Bolton in the match this weekend? Any weakness Bolton is sure to exploit?
PB: The weakness is our defence! 19 goals conceded in ten games is bottom of the table form, but 14 scored in five home games is keeping us in the pack. Away from home, excluding a win at bottom side Peterbrough, we've one point from four games and only scored twice so hardly dangerous.
The forwards all threaten in differing ways; Baldock's pace and eye for a goal, Davies' skill and touch, Stead's work ethic or Taylor's hold-up play and strength - McInnes tends to pick his forward line from game to game, depending on which combination he feels will work best against that particular opposition's defence.
The star man is probably still Albert Adomah though, the flying Ghanain winger is probably only bettered in this division by Crystal Palace's exceptional Wilf Zaha on his day, as Southampton found out in a particularly scintillating performance last winter. The only reason he's still with us is an all-too-regular lack of a final contribution, either in goals or pin-point crossing.
And finally, can I have a prediction for the match?
PB: Sadly I can't see anything other than a good win for Wanderers. We always seem to play sides with a new manager or one who've just sacked someone and often end up on the wrong end of an inspired performance. I'll go with 2-0 Bolton.
We hope you're right! Thanks again to Paul for giving us such in depth answers, be sure to visit the Exiled Robin for all of your Bristol City needs!