Picture the scene: it’s half-time, City are up 3-0 to Sunderland, and we’re sitting pretty.
It wasn’t difficult to believe that we were back, and that the lapse of form in recent weeks was because of a busy festive period, or injuries, or new players needing time to adjust. Hell, you could blame it on the players’ realising they’d been wearing the wrong studs for all I cared. It didn’t matter – we were back.
And you couldn’t blame me for getting ahead of myself. After watching 45 minutes of Bristol City demolish the just-demoted Black Cats, I’d completely forgotten what a tricky period we’d been going through recently. Unrecognisable were the team who’d just lost away to Bolton. Unrecognisable were the team who’d not long ago been smashed 5-0 by likely promotion candidates Aston Villa. Unrecognisable were the team of last season who would regularly bottle leads against the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Reading and Derby.
When that first goal went in against us in the 80th minute, I wasn’t going to start panicking. It was unlucky, and you couldn’t hold it against Brownhill. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why on earth Paterson allowed that cross to happen was beyond me, though, as he did the same thing at the Ethiad for Aguero’s late winner.
But we were still two goals ahead, and we had to score for them. If we made some subs and got back into the game a bit, we would easily hold for 20 minutes. No problem.
That was 20 long, long minutes. Made even longer by Johnson’s bizarre refusal to bring on any subs until added-time. All we needed was another midfielder. A single midfielder! Didn’t we just spend about £1m on one from Everton?
It was also at this point that I was starting to realise how lost Diony and Diedhoiu are in this game. Aside from Diedhoiu’s disallowed goal for hand ball, he’d been largely invisible most of the second-half, and his touch was going a bit wild. Diony’s touch, on the other hand, was spot on. So why was Diedhiou coming short to make chances for Diony to run onto? Not a clue.
Less than a minute later, the old fear was starting to kick back in. Here we go again – going to sleep again; going to bottle it again. Brownhill was just letting McGeady run away from him, while Diedhiou was slow to respond. And why wasn’t there a wall?
But it was important to stay positive, with less than ten minutes to go. We aren’t the team that bottles these sorts of leads anymore: that’s old Bristol City. This is new Bristol City. This is four-Prem-beatings-on-the-bounce, sixth-team-in-the-Championship, Man-Utd-humiliating Bristol City.
I must admit: I knew what was coming. Everyone did. I told myself these things just to make myself more comfortable in the moment. What I really should’ve done was resign myself to what was to come. Maybe that way it would’ve hurt less. Probably not.
Also, I can’t be the only one who’s realised it’s always at least four minutes added time. No matter what happens – if a player loses a leg or the ball doesn’t go out of play for an entire half: four minutes at least. Oh well, they only needed two of them, and what I said when they equalised can’t be printed.
You know when your parents say to you, “I’m not mad, son, I’m just disappointed”? Well, this wasn’t like that. I was mad, miserable, disgusted and frenzied, all rolled up nicely into a neat little football-shaped ball. One thing I wasn’t, was surprised. You can’t be as a Bristol City fan, or any football fan for that matter. This is all part of the game. One minute your team are scoring added-time winners against one of the best teams in the country, the next minute that same team are conceding one against relegation candidates the league-below.
None of this changes the feeling though. It’s a sinking feeling I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. It’s a feeling that rivals getting an untimely phone call in the middle of the night, or even hearing the words, “we need to talk”. It’s nice to think these feelings eventually balance themselves out, and that for every 5-0 battering lies ahead a victory of similar magnitude. It’s nice to think.