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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 15 vs. Bristol City

On Hollow’s Eve, find out who Fulham need to avoid putting a scare at Craven Cottage

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After a last minute 1-1 draw with Bolton, Fulham comes into tonight’s fixture against Bristol City with a slightly better attitude than if they were to lose. Tom Cairney was able to play the full 90 minutes and scored the goal to save Fulham’s bacon, while the club was able to put up 2.2 expected goals and 19 shots against the bottom-feeding club in the Championship.

That’s where all the positivity comes to an end because those shot totals were skewed by the fact that 10 of those 19 shots came after Stefan Johansen came on for Oliver Norwood in the 70th minute. Before that substitution took place, Fulham was actually outshot 12-9 and deserved to be down 1-0. Afterwards, only one Adam LeFondre missed attempt went Bolton’s way. History will show that Slavisa Jokanovic’s squad were the more aggressive of the two, but this was a classic example of teams changing their game plan in desperate need for a goal while trailing. In ice hockey, shot data can be adjusted for such score effects and it is with that data that determines the long-term success of a team more accurately.

Any way you cut this, giving Bolton just its fourth point in the Championship this campaign is inexcusable, especially when you add the defeat to fellow strugglers Burton Albion in the equation. Once again, Jokanovic thought it was a good idea to have Rui Fonte out wide despite being so ineffective over there at Villa Park. Even though Johansen did pick up a minor injury against Aston Villa, playing for 20 minutes with Cairney just isn’t enough at all to give Fulham their best midfield combination.

I understand squad rotation is the name of the game in the Championship and Jokanovic certainly can’t afford to burn out players, but Fulham is in a desperate scenario. They sit 13th in the Championship with almost every statistical category being down for them this season. Even if a few defensive categories have increased, it is not enough to call them an elite club on this side of the pitch. In short, Jokanovic hasn’t changed this team from a tactical standpoint. They are simply playing the same style of football, but with worse production.

While Fulham really had their opportunity to tear a poor side to shreds, now they are going to have to claim three points against a good Bristol City side on only two days rest. Lee Johnson has gone from being among the league leaders in the managerial sack race to guiding his team into some solid, well-rounded unit. The Robins employ a traditional 4-4-2 with two forwards that know how to bang in goals and with fullbacks that really know how to shield for their center backs. Along with that, Bristol City’s midfield can contribute to both attack and defense as you would expect any football club from the 1990s and early 2000s would do.

That being said, that doesn’t mean Johnson just throws in players that lack in individual talent. Here are three of them that hope to continue Bristol City’s strong run of form.

Joe Bryan

All data from whoscored.com

At the time, it sounded crazy for Fulham being rumored to spend seven figures on this fullback, especially considering where Bristol City was in the table last campaign. However, Joe Bryan has more than proven to be a hot commodity with his all-around contributions throughout the season. In fact, it could be argued that he is among the most complete left backs in the entire league. At 24, he is peaking at the right time for a big money transfer as his contract runs out at the end of 2018/19.

That being said, Bryan was born in Bristol, came through the Robins’ academy and will surpass 200 appearances for the club by seasons end assuming he stays healthy. So loyalty will be a major factor in where his future lies, but the numbers show that he has got what it takes to play beyond the second tier of English football whenever he wants. If Bristol can keep its upward trend, maybe Bryan will not have to worry about going elsewhere to fulfill his footballing potential.

James Paterson

All data from whoscored.com

Next up is one of the more unassuming, yet more consistent players for Bristol City in Jamie Paterson. The 26-year old is an all-around footballer by contributing on both ends and can interchange well with Bryan whenever it is the latter’s turn to push up in attack. Paterson is the club’s leader in not only assists, but also in chances created and accurate crosses. In fact, only Norwich City’s Wes Hoolahan has created more chances per 90 minutes than Paterson among Championship players that have played over 500 league minutes.

It should come as no surprise to also see the 25-year old as the top pick in taking corners. The man can really do it all. The former Nottingham Forest winger is enjoying the best season of his career. Despite being Coventry born, he has decided to play for Scotland should he be called up for International duty. With a new regime in charge after the sacking of Gordon Strachan, you would think Paterson would be a part of a new generation of Internationals coming through. But with the Scottish FA and critics alike towards the National Team emphasizing the need to call up more Scottish Premiership players, would a move north of the border be best for Paterson’s future in International football?

Bobby Reid

All data from whoscored.com

Lastly, we go to not just the most dangerous player to watch out for from Bristol City, but also the most improved player in the whole Championship. With eight goals, Bobby Reid has transformed himself from a former number 10 into an out-and-out striker in Johnson’s 4-4-2 formation and he has taken that role with complete confidence.

That all being said, it will be fascinating to see what happens when some of the shots that have normally gone in for him don’t. While leading the club in expected goals per 90 minutes, his rate is much smaller than his actual goal rate according to Ben Mayhew. Along with that, his 2.34 shots per 90 minutes is not elite for someone who is at center forward and his astronomical 21.4% goal conversion rate more than doubles his 9.2% conversion rate since 2015/16.

Still, Reid is 24 years old and this could also be a case of a player figuring things out as he continues to develop as a footballer. When the goals do dry up, Bristol City can also turn to 24-year old Famara Diedhou, who they signed from Ligue 1 outfit Angers over the summer.