Bristol City left with contrasting emotions after impressive performance and point at Norwich

Liam Manning admits the frustration his Bristol City side felt in the wake of their 1-1 draw at Norwich City was testament to the quality of their performance and how the Robins are progressing.

City extended their unbeaten run to six matches with Haydon Roberts’ 55th-minute opener cancelled out by Borja Sainz just three minutes later, but despite Norwich’s run of eight straight wins at home prior to this fixture, it was the Robins who created the overwhelming majority of the clear-cut chances.

Mark Sykes sent a 1vs1 wide in the first-half, Scott Twine struck the crossbar with a free-kick and was denied by Canaries goalkeeper Angus Gunn who was also nearly embarrassed by Tommy Conway as the City striker deflected a save just wide of the near post.

In the second-half, Gunn made an exceptional double stop to deny Conway, having already thwarted a near post strike a few moments earlier, and then an aghast Twine, who couldn’t believe his close-range effort had been kept out.

Harry Cornick also had a late goal ruled out for offside. A decision Manning felt was incorrect although wasn’t ready to complain about given the fortuitous nature of their equaliser against Huddersfield Town last week.

There was a huge amount of pride in the performance and how City executed the game plan, but also frustration that one point wasn’t three as the Robins reached 59 - the same figure they totalled in 2022/23, and with two games of the season remaining, at home to Rotherham United and then at Stoke City.

“The lads are frustrated,” Manning said. “They know that (the missed chances), they’re working at it and if you keep repeating it, and keep doing it, it’ll happen. We’ve had games this season where we’ve scored numerous times and it’s about consistency; consistently creating those opportunities and getting into those areas and the big bit if you want to progress and move forward, collectively and individually, is actually making sure you convert the really high quality chances.

“They know we played well, they can feel it. When you speak with them, they're really honest, and it was a real positive if you see the work that we’ve done; first half, Norwich can cause you real problems with the shape they create and the way they rotate, I thought the lads did a really good job in-game of solving that. There’s only so much we can do from the sidelines so they, in terms of owning it, talking and problem solving, did a great job of it.

“Performance-wise, it was what was needed and they’re also realistic - it’s a tough place to come so to be disappointed with a point speaks a lot around the performance.”

Even with that frustration, while it was only a point, in terms of the execution on the field, how they, for the most part, dominated the contest and for 90 minutes, that was arguably City’s best performance so far under Manning.

Joe Williams and Jason Knight were relentless in midfield, Scott Twine played with freedom and intent in the final third, while Tommy Conway found openings against an experienced Norwich backline. Defensively, the return of Rob Dickie after a calf injury also brought added stability and helped the overall connection and cohesion in possession.

Roberts’ goal was the result of a sustained period of pressure in which, true to form, the Robins won the ball high up the pitch and then Conway was sent away down the left with the striker then pulling the ball back for the defender to finish for his first goal for the club.

“I thought there were a huge number of positives to come from the performance,” Manning added. “We’ve spoken about phases of the game, being clear on your role and consistently delivering then I thought, first half especially, there were some moments where we really pressed, regained it high, had to block well - they’re a good side, pushing six high, so they caused us problems at times - but probably the most pleasing thing was the progress with the ball.

"To come here, a difficult place, with their record and how they’re performing, and take the game to them a bit with the ball, and the way we switched it and hurt the depth and created some top opportunities, there were so many positives.

“It speaks volumes around the culture we’ve got; the desire to work, the desire to compete, the bravery to go and play and do us, which I think is really important. Having time on the training pitch really helps and it’s something that, since we’ve been here, has been quite difficult to come by just because of the volume of games that we’ve had.

“It shows we’re moving in the right direction, we’ve still got work to do, we’re under no illusion that we’ve cracked it, by any means. It’s now about consistency.

“We’ve had some terrific performances recently, some average performances and got results but it’s about finding different ways to dominate games and controlling games and the credit goes to the lads. It starts with their work rate. You see their output physically; how much they want to run, how much they want to compete and put their bodies on the line.”

Dickie moved into the central berth of the back three, with George Tanner to his right and Roberts on the left, and after an early few wobbles seamlessly stepped back into the side to deliver a performance of real authority against one of the Championship’s best strikers in Josh Sargent.

The defender’s calmness on the ball, vision and awareness of the situation also helped City control possession and turn defensive positions into attacking ones.

“It was a little bit disjointed last week against Huddersfield and I think you saw it today with relationships, the rhythm and people are just used to playing certain passes from certain areas of the pitch,” Manning said.

“He was great, his composure with the ball and little things. Long balls, he brings them down and then sets you off on an attack, rather than just sending it back.”

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