Bristol City predicted team vs Stoke: Vyner in contention as Twine makes final loan appearance

Every game of football is there to be enjoyed and celebrated but, with the greatest of respect to Stoke City, now safe from Championship relegation, it still feels a slightly underwhelming conclusion to what has been a season overwhelmed with drama at times.

Bristol City will finish "mid-table", improving both their league position and points total from last season, but given the gap between where they are the places of interest around the top six is just nine points, you do ever-so slightly think the difference could have been bridged had the right results fallen at certain times.

Then again, that’s probably true of every side in this region of the table given how competitive the division is and the closeness in quality of so many; for every, “why on earth couldn’t we have beaten QPR?” there’s a, “yeah, but we did turn over Leicester City and Southampton.”

Given the lack of jeopardy around their season for some time, it’s impressive and admirable City have put together this seven-match unbeaten run and, even though there is little riding on this context, it would be disappointing for all concerned if they take one final L into the summer.

Liam Manning’s side could reach 65 points with a win, and possibly even ninth in the table, which would represent their best season since 2018/19, something very much to aim for. Here’s how we think they’ll line up in Stoke…

Goalkeeper and defence

Unless Stefan Bajic makes a late run for the position, Max O’Leary should line up at the bet365 Stadium as the only City player to have started each of their 52 games this season. Given the constant, and frankly exhausting chat, last summer and into the start of this campaign about the “need for another keeper” it’s testament to the 27-year-old’s form, consistency and character that he’s rendered all that a bit of a waste of time.

In his first full campaign as Robins No1 after a few early hiccups, which happens, he’s not just been a steady presence between the posts but he’s improved as it’s developed.

Yes, perhaps the club could do with more depth in the position but, then again, with wage budgets tight and financial resources needed to be directed elsewhere, is it worth wasting a salary on a more experienced keeper who won’t play? City have obviously declared, no, it’s not, and therefore Bajic has deputised but with the Frenchman’s frustrations at a lack of game time and the development of Josey Casa Grande and Joe Duncan, perhaps this will be the last time we see him in a matchday squad.

Manning revealed earlier this week that Cam Pring has undergone minor surgery on a hernia so that rules him out of this encounter. Assuming the head coach sticks to the 3-4-2-1 system, the obvious move will be to move Haydon Roberts across which leaves a vacancy in the back three.

It seems like good timing then for Zak Vyner to return to training after his knee complaint and the likely switch will be for Rob Dickie to move across into the left-sided berth with the 26-year-old in the middle and George Tanner to his right. Ross McCrorie, meanwhile, is sure to continue at right wing-back, a position that increasingly looks perfect for him.

There is also the consideration of whether Jamie Knight-Lebel will get a run out and certainly if City don’t want to risk Vyner, given the lack of consequence on this fixture for either side, then the Canadian youth international may well come into the back three.

Unless, as he did against Huddersfield Town, Manning shifts McCrorie inside and starts Mark Sykes at wing-back. Should the Under-21 captain be named on the bench, however, it would be fair to expect him to get on the field at some stage.


Matty James has been ruled out of today’s contest which does mean, given his expiring contract, there’s the very real possibility he’s played his last game for City. That being said, Manning was pretty clear in midweek that no decision has been reached and, somewhat tellingly, declared he’s loved working with the 32-year-old.

Today may not provide any further answers to the situation but James’ absence does mean that Jason Knight is likely to return to the middle of the park unless Manning rules that starting the Irishman is unnecessary given his forthcoming international duty and the sheer volume of matches - this will be his 60th for club and country - he’s played this term.

It’s a fair guess to say he will be in the line-up given he’s next up in line for the captaincy and, well, just because he’s a really important player for this team.

The other alternatives would be Andy King, in what will be his last game in professional football, and he may be given a sentimental start and, do you know what, why not? Or, perhaps more realistically, and with a look to next season, Taylor Gardner-Hickman, who’s not started since West Brom on March 16 after dealing with a minor calf issue.

The one name we haven’t mentioned, of course, is Joe Williams who will definitely be in the side, even if his future remains unresolved at this moment in time, with a desire from the club to retain the Scouser beyond this summer.


Another individual who today could end up being a goodbye or a brief break in the relationship before something more lasting to come in the summer, is Scott Twine. The loanee has been growing in stature in terms of his performances and will retain his place in the side for what will be the 10th and final appearance of his loan from Burnley.

City would like to make it a more lasting agreement but are going to have to play a bit of a waiting game as the Premier League season doesn’t finish for another two weeks. Let’s hope, at the very least, Twine can go out with a bang, although Manning wants it to be the first of many chapters rather than the closing of a book.

In terms of who partners him as one of the duel No10s, Anis Mehmeti was given the start last week and did okay, which does leave the door open for Sykes to be given a shot, but the same consideration around Knight’s minutes could also be applicable to his fellow Republic of Ireland international. Ultimately, unless there is a real need to start him, it may make sense just to start him on the bench.

We’re not expecting any late involvement from Harry Cornick or Dire Mebude, which means that the only remaining debate is between Tommy Conway and Nahki Wells up top. With 12 for the season so far, the former has the opportunity to exceed his goal tally from last term and having found the target last week looks set to continue there.

Also, there seems to be a bit of politics at play with regards to his contract situation and wanting to show him that will be City’s premier striker, should he commit to fresh terms.

Bristol City (3-4-2-1): Max O’Leary; George Tanner, Zak Vyner, Rob Dickie; Ross McCrorie, Joe Williams, Jason Knight, Haydon Roberts; Anis Mehmeti, Scott Twine; Tommy Conway

SIGN UP: For our daily Robins newsletter, bringing you the latest from Ashton Gate