Lee Trundle has started justifying his £1m transfer fee at just the right time as Bristol City continue their remarkable surge toward the Premier League.
The former Swansea forward's form had slumped so low during the season that he was regularly dropped by Gary Johnson, the manager, who started having his own doubts after shelling out the biggest sum of money in his managerial career.
But the penny has finally dropped for Trundle, leaving Johnson with a satisfied smile as he prepares for his first trip into the play-offs as a manager. Trundle's early tap-in after nine minutes inspired City to claim only their second victory in 11 attempts and set up a semi-final first-leg date with Crystal Palace in London on Saturday afternoon.
The striker, with better luck and finishing, could have had a hat-trick when he saw a long-range drive graze the crossbar and then had a tap-in cleared off the line by Matthew Hill. Yet Trundle's fifth goal of his far-from-satisfactory season inspired his City team to equal their best result this term and achieve their highest league position for 28 years.
"Hopefully, I have three games in the play-offs to do well and, if I do that, I can become a hero with the supporters and everyone will forget what happened during the season," Trundle said. "It takes time to get to know a new manager's philosophy, I feel my best form is coming back at the right time."
Michael McIndoe took a pass from Trundle to make it 2-0 on 16 minutes and David Noble curled in a free kick to complete the scoring six minutes after the break.
Johnson is relishing his two meetings with Palace, saying: "We know that they are the form team coming into the play-offs, but whatever team you meet is going to be a tough contest. We have got to be proud finishing fourth in our first season in the Championship, and now we have got our game back, we can go to Selhurst Park on Saturday with confidence."
Goals: Trundle (8) 1-0; McIndoe (16) 2-0; Noble (51) 3-0.
Bristol City (4-4-2): Basso; Orr, McCombe, Carey, McAllister; Noble, Elliott, Carle (Johnson, 66), McIndoe; Adebola (Showunmi, 61), Trundle (Sproule, 74). Substitutes not used: Fontaine, Weale. Preston (4-4-2): Lonergan; Hart, Trotman, St Leger, Hill; Sedgwick (Carter, 58), McKenna, Chaplow, Neal (Whaley, 58); Brown (Beattie, 58), Mellor. Substitutes not used: Davidson, Hawley.
Referee: I Williamson (Berkshire).
Booked: Preston Hill, Chaplow, Sedgwick.
Man of the match: Trundle.
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