No injury-time heroics this week and no football from the gods for the travelling (and watching) faithful to digest, but what occurred at Ashton Gate could, in the final countdown, be every bit as significant as anything we’ve witnessed so far.
Rather than the precision and silk we’ve become accustomed to, this one was almost the antithesis although, remarkably, that late onslaught nearly produced a familiar outcome.
But, on this occasion, a draw was about right and it would certainly have been harsh on a lively Bristol City if they had got nothing from the game. Ultimately it was one to take on the chin and savour the point gained rather than dwell on the two that got away.
As it transpired, there were mitigating factors around City’s, at times, listless offering and a squad riddled with illness was always going to find the going tough against such tricky opponents. Another reason why the point was a good one.
Yet, even among the litany of miscued clearances, imprecise passes and missed tackles, there were still some good performances and even more food for thought for Daniel Farke ahead of next weekend’s trip to Blackburn.
Despite yet more online nonsense, Tim Krul was magnificent last night and it’s difficult to know what more he has to do to convince some that he’s deserving of the number one jersey.
His two first-half saves, from Jamie Paterson and Josh Brownhill’s long-range efforts, were right out of the top draw, and despite conceding two – neither of which could be laid at his door – his all-round contribution to a difficult evening was everything Farke and Stuart Webber had hoped for when he signed on the dotted line.
With a starting back-four averaging a shade under 21, Krul’s role went far beyond his shot-stopping and to have someone of his experience and knowledge guide them through was invaluable on such a night. That they didn’t cave when the pressure gauge was cranked up to eleven says a lot about his influence and their collective mental strength.
City sides of the recent past would have emerged from such a test with absolutely nothing.
Marco Stiepermann is another who is still to convince some quarters of the Yellow Army, but three goals in his last five games, allied to some powerful, intelligent performances are precisely why he’s Farke’s attacking midfielder of choice.
He may look a tad ungainly at times and he will give the ball away occasionally, but it’s a trade-off with what else he brings to the side, namely the clever movement, a good touch, power, an eye for goal and, yes, bulk.
(That’s three weeks in a row now that I’ve banged on about Tim and Marco – I’ll stop now… promise).
Others to catch the eye were, obviously Max Aarons – who’s now so versatile he quite frankly should be handed Brexit to sort out – and Ben Godfrey, who has now given Farke a proper dilemma when all of his centre-backs are fit and healthy.
The 20-year-old has had to be patient, especially so after enjoying such a successful loan spell at Shrewsbury where he was their ‘Alex Tettey’, but such was his performance level in the cup games he’s played, there was always a feeling he’d take his chance when it arrived. And he’s done exactly that.
Against Bolton, he was steady, reliable, neat and tidy but it was a game in which City had a lot of the ball and it wasn’t a stern test like last night’s. When the crunch came he stood tall and defended in a way befitting of an experienced, gnarled, Championship centre-back, only one who’s just as comfortable in possession as he is hoofing it into row Z.
Also telling last night was the impact of one Grant Hanley who, as well as tightening things up at the back, also found time to venture forward and sting the palms of Niki Mäenpää in injury time. His influence on those around was obvious to all and despite it being only being a 35-minute cameo, it was one that will have resonated in the City technical area.
It was hard not to be impressed by the way Hanley – who let’s not forget hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since September 2 – managed to get up to speed so quickly in the white heat of Championship battle, and from the vantage point of my sofa there didn’t look even the slightest hint of rustiness.
As well as being to Hanley’s credit, it’s hard to ignore the impact of Farke’s ‘conditioning’ team, not just on the Scot, but on the squad as a whole, who continue to dominate almost every game they play from 70-minutes onward.
Suggestions of last night’s first-half sluggishness being the result of fatigue were blown out of the water by the team’s strong finish and while there may be some fairly tired minds, the limbs appear fresh – arguably the freshest in the Championship.
This lot are incessant, their desire relentless, and no game is beyond them, even on those days when the odds are stacked against them. And that’s why we should all start to believe.
Out of the potential carnage of Ashton Gate came, for me, the strongest signal yet that this group are in it for the long haul.
We can do this.