Bristol City 2 Middlesbrough 2: Johnson's long and winding rise has City on comeback trail

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Gary Johnson's career in football management has followed an unusual path, to say the least, beginning as it did with a part-time job in the Eastern Counties League taken to supplement the money he was making running a soccer holidays business in Sweden, and including a spell as the national coach of Latvia. One suspects it has quite some way to go yet, probably along a somewhat more mainstream route.

Although he had already had a significant influence on the success of one League club as John Beck's assistant during Cambridge United's climb through the divisions in the early 1990s, it was not until he took charge at Yeovil in 2001, at the age of 45, that Johnson began to be taken seriously as a manager. There he won the FA Trophy in his first season followed by the Conference championship in his second and the League Two title in 2005.

Now Bristol City are deriving the benefit of his talent. Having flirted with the play-offs last year, Johnson's first season, the Robins have become genuine contenders for automatic promotion in League One this season, suffering only one defeat in their last 13 League matches. For good measure, they are through to the southern area final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and, as Middlesbrough discovered on Saturday, are proving no pushovers in the FA Cup.

City's right to take on the Premiership side for a second time at the Riverside on 13 February was earned through what has become a familiar mix, blending constructive football of a quality that aspires to a higher level with an apparent taste for comebacks.

Two-nil down after 23 minutes, it looked like an expectant full-house crowd at an atmospherically charged Ashton Gate was in for a sober disappointment. But having been two-behind in three League One matches in the last five weeks and lost none of them, City knew what they had to do and to the delight of their fans it worked again, even in this company.

"I don't know why it keeps happening," Johnson said. "If I did, I'd put it right. People are saying I should give my half-time team talk before the game but obviously at that stage I'm not angry enough."

Clearly, he was furious enough after 45 minutes on Saturday. Dismayed at watching his defence concede soft goals to Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Malcolm Christie, he implored his players at least to provide "some highlights for Match of the Day" and they did not let him down.

The better side by some margin in the second half, they hit back when centre back Richard Keogh looped a header beyond the reach of an indecisive Mark Schwarzer and equalised spectacularly when Scott Murray, from a position outside the penalty area on the right, connected with Schwarzer's punched clearance to score from 25 yards.

City might even have grabbed a third, going close through Liam Fontaine's header before Jamie McAllister flashed a late shot wide. Outstanding throughout was the manager's son, Lee Johnson, whose energy and inventiveness in midfield made it clear that his place in the side has nothing to do with family favouritism.

"We learned a lesson," Gareth Southgate, the Middlesbrough manager, confessed. "We were probably a bit complacent at 2-0 but you cannot take your foot off the pedal, whoever you are playing."

Looking ahead to the replay, Johnson added: "We'll go there to play football, as we did today. And we'll have a few new tricks to call on."

Goals: Yakubu (4) 0-1; Christie (23) 0-2; Keogh (53) 1-2; Murray (59) 2-2.

Bristol City (4-4-1-1): Basso; Orr, Carey, Keogh, Fontaine (Woodman, 83); Murray, Skuse (Russell, 76), Johnson, McAllister; Noble (Myrie-Williams, 73); Showunmi. Substitutes not used: Weale (gk), Artus.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Xavier, Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Morrison (Johnson, 86), Cattermole, Arca, Downing; Yakubu, Christie (Euell, 75). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Davies, Hines.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Bristol City Showunmi; Middlesbrough Euell.

Man of the match: Johnson.

Attendance: 19,008.

Comments